The Academy of Performing Arts is continuing their celebration of playwright Neil Simon’s 90th birthday with “The Sunshine Boys,” their second Simon play this fall. The comedy is a fun take on aging and explores how two vaudeville comedians deal with it.
Willie Clark is not enjoying his retirement; in fact, the widower refuses to be put out to pasture. Having spent 57 years in show business, Willie can’t accept that his mild senility and eccentricities are stopping him from getting auditions.
Peter Milsky is brilliant as the cantankerous and slovenly dressed comedian. In the challenging role, Milsky is on stage for most of the play, and on Friday night he received loads of laughs from the audience. Playwright Neil Simon is in top form with quips from Willie like “I’m happy, I just look miserable!” This encapsulates Willie in a nutshell, and Milsky believably embodies the sentiment.
Sean Whalen plays Ben Silverman, Willie’s devoted and patient nephew, who is also his agent. Ben seems to be Willie’s only connection to the outside world, bringing cans of soup and a weekly Variety magazine to the small, depressing New York City apartment, and trying to get his aged uncle an audition.
Whalen comically expresses his frustration with their repetitive conversations, mouthing Willie’s expected replies. But ultimately Ben’s frustration always mounts, with Whalen dramatically clutching his chest as he tells his uncle “I only get chest pains on Wednesday.” To which Milsky replies with a deadpan expression, “So come on Tuesdays!”
When Ben finally has good news for Willie about a chance to perform on a network show celebrating the history of comedy, Willie still isn’t happy. The catch is that he has to play opposite his vaudeville partner of 43 years, Al Lewis, whom Willie can’t stand and hasn’t spoken to in 12 years.
Peter Earle does double duty as the director of the compelling production along with playing Al, the other half of the beloved comic duo “The Sunshine Boys.” Al is the complete opposite of Willie, reminiscent of Felix and Oscar in Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” Well-dressed, Earle plays the self-assured Al with sophistication and poise, complete with a silver-capped walking stick, which Willie calls “a cane.” Unlike Willie, Al lives contentedly with his daughter’s family in suburban New Jersey. After a few jabs back and forth, the two reluctantly agree to do the television show.
The highlight of the comedy is the second act, when Willie and Al perform their famous “doctor’s skit.” Milsky and Earle have starred opposite each other many times over the years, including in “The Odd Couple.” Just like the characters they play, the two have great energy, and their comic timing is spot-on. The skit is like a well-orchestrated “Who’s on First,” with the laughter and one-liners flowing.
The play is rounded out by a supporting cast of three. In the vaudeville skit, Rachel Hatfield hams up her role as the “Burlesque Nurse,” dressed in a tight-fitting and very short nurse’s uniform, while Will Oxtoby is the befuddled stage hand Eddie. After Willie has some health complications, Martha Whatley portrays his no-nonsense nurse with a fine Irish accent.
Aging is inevitable for all of us, but if you enjoy finding the humor in getting older and examining comically tragic foibles, “The Sunshine Boys” will make your day.
“The Sunshine Boys”
At The Academy of Performing Arts, Orleans
Through Nov. 5
Information and reservations: 508-255-1963