The Sunshine Boys at the Guthrie

Michael Brosilow

At their best, Neil Simon comedies are well-oiled machines that deploy jokes with ruthless efficiency. While his later work merges into drama, most of his early pieces stick to the funny. It's fitting that Simon broke the pattern a bit in The Sunshine Boys, as it is a play about the enduring nature of comedy and the fact that the joke-makers can be the most miserable people in the room. That bit of pathos, however, doesn't get in the way of the parade of jokes. Here we follow Lewis and Clark, a Vaudeville comedy team who haven't spoken to each other in the 11 years since they broke up. A chance for work on a TV show brings the two, reluctantly, back together, and all the old hatreds are quickly brought back to the surface.The play turns on the lead performances, and Peter Michael Goetz (Clark) and Raye Birk (Lewis) showcase their own decades of experience. Goetz is all bluster as Clark, a man who still dreams of his career even though he rarely leaves his New York City apartment. Birk gives us a prickly Lewis, but he also shows a man who is profoundly saddened by where his life has gone in the past decade. (He also sports an awful — in other words, absolutely brilliant — toupee; so much of the character's state can be found in that hairpiece.) The two are very funny together, which is what Sunshine Boys is about. The supporting cast gets in on the fun, led by Robert O. Berdahl as Clark's long-suffering nephew and including a cameo from Dudley Riggs, the Twin Cities' own long-lasting vaudevillian.

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