banner

reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mrs. K and I attended a second weekend showing of Neil Simon’s 1972 award-winning classic comedy The Sunshine Boys, currently running at Main Street Production’s Westfield Playhouse in Eagletown. The play is directed by Pamela Kingsley, and stars Duane Leatherman as the cantankerous Willie Clark, and Jeff Maess as Clark’s former vaudeville partner, Al Lewis. Scott Prill takes the role of Clark’s nephew, Ben Silverman, and Adrienne Reiswerg picks up the two nurse roles as the sketch nurse, Miss MacKintosh, and registered nurse, Mrs. O’Neill. Production stage manager Lydia Bowling comes on briefly as TV stage manager, Edie. The proceedings are set on a perfect looking run down apartment design by Ms. Kingsley and John Sampson.

This well-worn storyline is certainly a dated one and I suspect the comedy gods are still pulling for its success. But, The Sunshine Boys is Simon’s 11th show (in an amazing catalogue of 34 plays) and comedy has evolved in the 45 years since it was the toast of Broadway. I’m not saying its production is a futile effort – I’m saying it is certainly a large challenge.

sunshine-cast1

(From left) Duane Leatherman (as Willie Clark) and Jeff Maess (Al Lewis) in a scene from “The Sunshine Boys” at Westfield Playhouse.

WP’s edition of the script is at best a bit uneven. There are some noteworthy turns – Mr. Prill brings excellent energy and a sense of credibility to his portrayal of Silverman. The east coast accent he lightly employs seems accurate and even. His emotions, running from caring to mild frustration to exasperation and hopefulness are all fully on the mark. Ms. Reiswerg creates a playful sketch nurse and doubles down with her later private RN – nailing the right mood and flat voiced delivery. And young Ms. Bowling seems relaxed and natural in her brief cameo appearance.

nurse-and-willy

Adrienne Reiswerg (as Nurse MacKintosh) and Duane Leatherman (Willie Clark) in a scene from “The Sunshine Boys” at Westfield Playhouse.

In the larger roles, which plainly are tougher, the unevenness shows it’s face. Part of what seems to me to be missing from time to time is my old favorite essential – pacing, and the idea of suiting the tempo of a scene to it’s content. Some of this falls on the director – but perhaps this being a second weekend “get-back-to-it” performance contributed to this dilemma.

ben-and-willy2

(From left) Scott Prill (as Ben Silverman) and Duane Leatherman (Willie Clark) in a scene from “The Sunshine Boys” at Westfield Playhouse

Don’t get me wrong, Maess and Leatherman do share some nice moments together at times. There are real belly laughs to be enjoyed here – but the “classic” quality of the comedy, and an approach which I felt was short on pacing and tempo, takes some of the humorous intentions off the stage.

Bottomline: As so often occurs, the goodness outweighs the concerns here and attending the comfortable and easy to reach (now that the Keystone Pkwy/US 31 highway project has been completed) theatre still provides an entertaining evening.

The Sunshine Boys continues through February 19th. You can get theatre information and reservations at http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org or by calling 317.402.3341 .

************************************************************************************************

Footnote: Anyone who has ever attended a play at Westfield Playhouse knows about a very special distinction which exists there – the lack of indoor plumbing, which results in the necessity for port-a-johns outside of the building. Granted , this is a distinction the theatre would rather not have, but to their credit, it is referred to openly and light heartedly in their pre-show greeting and in their references to the building. Still, it has been this way for a long time, so I took the opportunity of this visit to do a little investigative reporting. John Sampson, the president of the theatre, answered my questions openly and honestly. The theatre has been actively doing plays in the old church since 2002 – so 15 years ago they set up a stage area, cleaned up the property and opened for business, with temporary portable bathrooms outside the doors.

When asked why this was still the status of things, Sampson told me they had the following situation. The building had had a septic system which, due to age and lack of maintenance, had fallen out of usefulness. The theatre was not allowed by Westfield to put in a new system because a sewage system was in the planning stages for the “near future”. So Westfield Playhouse has been asking certain government types “when?” on an annual basis and have been told “in about 2 years” for the past nine years or so. I must say, they are a patient lot. As I said, Sampson and the other good folks who helm the organization are nothing but good-natured about the status quo, but John told me he would be glad to have this information given out to my readers. A little knowledge goes a long way – especially when you have to pee outside.

Advertisements