Gold Hill hilarity
The Sunshine Boys
A town with a storied history, Gold Hill— and the Comstock region overall—has a lengthy, steadfast commitment to keeping theater alive. At the May 21 performance of the Gold Hill Theater Troupe’s hilarious production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, it was obvious that theater isn’t merely alive—it’s thriving. Its tenacious, beating heart is especially dear to this non-profit organization’s producer-director, Bill Fain, a recipient of a 2008 Nevada Governor’s Arts Award.
The curtain opened, and Fain introduced the show, suggesting that it was time to “let the magic of theater” have the spotlight. With seating for just 40-50 people, the successful, six-week, Wednesday-night run of The Sunshine Boys has vividly illustrated that the GHTT isn’t held back by the small size of its community. The Sunshine Boys is the story of a bitterly reunited comedy duo. Adeptly directed by and starring Richard J. McGregor as the disheveled, disheartened Willie Clark—once a big name in vaudeville—any slip-ups in this pint-sized performance hall are handled with aplomb. A loud noise from backstage, a giggle and an out-loud apology detracted from neither Simon’s superb script, nor these seasoned performers’ best efforts.
What proved distracting at the May 21 performance, as well as reminiscent of vaudeville’s sublime simplicity, was the handful of production and audience members loudly guffawing through much of the show. Perhaps they were family members, neighbors or friends of the actors, significantly amused at these delightful, virtually flawless portrayals. Yet their boisterous, well-timed laughter seemed as if they sensed when the best lines were about to be delivered—at one point, actually stepping on and drowning out an actor’s words.
Notably, the deliveries of McGregor and his costars—Dan Morgan as Willie’s son Ben, and Bob Clerico as Willie’s long-lost BFF/nemesis, Al Lewis—and the delicate dynamics of their relationships effectively washed away whatever went wrong in the performance. The fragility of these characters is so well-executed, the poignancy of long-lost friendship and deep-rooted resentments is tangible.
The Gold Hill Theater Troupe’s rendition of The Sunshine Boys is simply excellent theater, with memorable performances by supporting characters like Dorothy “Duffy” Gillespie as Doris/Nursie/Nurse and the very hip Mark Stevens as television director Mr. Walsh.
The set, props and costumes serve the show very well. And, like Willie says more than once throughout The Sunshine Boys, “Eleven-thousand times, doing the same show"—the show went on at the Gold Hill Hotel. “I’ve been in this business for 57 years,” Willie reminds Ben, before bashing his former costar, “As an actor, no one could touch him. As a human being—nobody wanted to touch him!”
One of the night’s biggest laughs is a hysterical bit with very little dialogue—just pure sight gags, as the two old duffers try to coordinate the set for a scene they’d rehearsed a million times. Even without amplified sound or theater-style seating, The Sunshine Boys shouldn’t be missed. The Gold Hill Theater Troupe does it up big and right and real. By the time the cast takes a bow on this barely-elbow-room stage, all that matters is the warm-fuzzy feeling that viewers had just been transported to that place—where stories get in your veins, bring a tear to your eye, follow you home … and yes, make you laugh.