The Sunshine Boys: old age and laughs connect with audience

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By CECELIA MARSHALL for Arizona Daily Wildcat

Published March 8, 2013 at 1:30am

We all have those elderly relatives who forget what day it is, don’t know how to turn on a computer or read a text and often steal Splenda packets from Denny’s. They make us groan, roll our eyes and sometimes laugh aloud with their absurd comments.

Award-winning playwright Neil Simon drew on this absurdity to create a comedy about two senile Vaudeville stars, Willie Clarke and Al Lewis, who perform together one last time.

Arizona Theater Company returns this spring with former Tony Award nominee “The Sunshine Boys,” directed by David Ira Goldstein.

Clarke and Lewis are a famous Vaudeville duo team who made audiences laugh for decades. However, since being taken off television, the two have become estranged and have not uttered one word to each other for over 11 years.

Set in early 1970s New York City, Clarke, played by Peter Van Norden, lives alone in a crummy hotel room. The dank walls are covered with black and white photos from times past, celebrity headshots, onstage scenes and meet-and-greets with fellow stars. The glamour of the pictures contrasts sharply with the dinginess and clutter around the unkempt Clarke, who is unshaven and sporting faded grey pajamas.

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Besides visits each Wednesday from his nephew, Ben, played by Bob Sorenson, Clarke doesn’t know what day it is, never leaves his home and doesn’t see any other family members. Ben is also an agent for his uncle, but he has been unable to get him a commercial for so much as Alka-Seltzer.

In the course of the play, he decides to make a final attempt to get his uncle and Lewis, played by David Green, together for one last hurrah. After more than a decade of silence between them, the two are forced to overcome their grudges and reignite their old camaraderie.

When “the kings of comedy reunite,” the scene is just as funny, if not more so, than any found in Simon’s other famous play, “The Odd Couple.”

Musical theatre senior and Arizona Theatre Company intern Caitlin Stegemoller struts around the stage as a nurse in “The Sunshine Boys,” swinging her hips to a booming drum that accentuates her sexuality in a dress that does the same. Stegemoller had a similar role as Lucy the Slut in Arizona Repertory Theatre’s “Avenue Q.”

“You have to accept being ridiculous and going all out, because it will make it funny,” Stegemoller said of the role. She is currently gearing up for spring musical “Nine” with the Arizona Repertory Theatre.

UA students often intern with the Arizona Theatre Company, but not many of them get the opportunity to perform in a show like Stegemoller did. For Stegemoller, working with a cast of experienced actors in a professional and well-established theater company was the perfect internship.

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“Green and Van Norden hit each joke perfectly, and I love hearing their stories about all the famous people they’d worked with,” said Stegemoller.

Simon is famous for his characters and fast-paced, funny dialogue, which have won his plays numerous awards, and “The Sunshine Boys” is nothing short of a tried-and-true Simon comedy.

“I loved writing ‘The Sunshine Boys,’” Simon said. “It was a play that allowed me to be outrageously funny but also dramatic at the same time, because these two old codgers were very poignant to me.”

If you go:
“The Sunshine Boys”
Directed by David Ira Goldstein
From March 2 through March 23
Temple of Music and Art
2 1/2 hours runtime.
For more information visit:
http://www.arizonatheatre.org/

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