Grumpy geezers

The Sunshine Boys

Jeff Labowitch (standing) and Bill Powers (seated) in <i>The Sunshine Boys</i>: “I’m telling you, talk-show hosts like this Jimmy Kimmel wouldn’t get hired as bar backs in my day.”

Jeff Labowitch (standing) and Bill Powers (seated) in The Sunshine Boys: “I’m telling you, talk-show hosts like this Jimmy Kimmel wouldn’t get hired as bar backs in my day.”

Rated 2.0

Neil Simon’s comedy The Sunshine Boys—about a bickering pair of aging vaudeville comedians who are retrieved from retirement for one last gig on a TV special—was a success on stage in 1972 and moved to the silver screen three years later. The movie version launched the late George Burns’ “second career.”

The play’s been in steady production at community theaters ever since, and it’s not hard to understand why. The playwright’s sincere sympathy for these characters, wrapped around his formidable skill with comic dialogue, makes for a strong script. And for those old enough that mentions of long-gone TV hosts like Ed Sullivan and Mike Douglas bring associated memories, it’s a pleasant trip down memory lane.

This Woodland Opera House production incorporates period props throughout Don Zastoupil’s elaborate set, including a phone with a dial rather than push buttons.

Dick Mangrum, whose outstanding performance a few years back in Woodland’s production of Foxfire won an Elly award, anchors this cast. Mangrum is almost as good here, as vaudevillian Al Lewis, who broke up the team of Lewis and Clark by abruptly retiring 11 years before the action begins and ultimately moved into his daughter’s house in suburban New Jersey.

But, to former stage partner Willie Clark, New Jersey might as well be Siberia. The disheveled Clark (tousle-haired William Powers) clings to the memory of his career while living alone in a run-down flat in a once-fashionable New York building.

Mangrum and Powers both look right for their parts, and they glower at each other convincingly. But there isn’t enough of a sense that they once formed a powerhouse showbiz act, and Powers struggled with a few lines the night I saw the show. Director Bobby Grainger also doesn’t generate as much effervescence as he might from the physical comedy when the aging antagonists reluctantly rehearse; these scenes elicit little titters rather than belly laughs.