Eric Peterson (left) and Kenneth Welsh add a bit of Sunshine.
THE SUNSHINE BOYS by Neil Simon (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (50 Tank House). To September 22. $51-$68, stu $32, rush $5-$22. See listing. Rating: NNN
Neil Simon's best known play continues to be The Odd Couple, that classic comedy about mismatched roommates. The Sunshine Boys is a sort of geriatric take on that formula, and though not as well known, it's endured through community stagings and the odd high-profile revival, like the recent West End production and the current one at Soulpepper.
Al Lewis (Kenneth Welsh) and Willie Clark (Eric Peterson) were a famous vaudeville team for 43 years before Al suddenly retired, leaving Willie scrounging for solo work. They haven't seen each other in more than a decade when they get a call from a network asking them to stage a famous routine for a TV special on the history of comedy.
When they finally, reluctantly reunite, via Willie's agent/nephew (Jordan Pettle, fine in an underwritten role), grudges resurface, and the now old men generate a lot of laughs, as well as the occasional tear.
Simon's script is jokey, middlebrow material, but there's an affection for show business types in it, as well as a moving metaphor about friendship and working relationships. It's a shame Simon doesn't dig deeper into Willie's feelings of betrayal and loneliness.
Still, director Ted Dykstra and the actors suggest a lot that's not in the script and nail most of the jokes, even the corniest ones. In comedy, timing is everything, and Peterson and Welsh, who have the contrasting energy of a genuine duo - the former's all scattered zaniness, the latter's more stolid and deadpan - know just when to deliver a salvo. Classic gags fill the act two recreation of their TV scene, and the pair are almost upstaged by Sarah Wilson's bosomy nurse.
Patrick Clark's set and costumes efficiently evoke 70s Manhattan, and it's surely no coincidence that, in the second act, Quancetia Hamilton (another scene-stealer) plays her real-life nurse like a smart-talking character in a sitcom from that era.