The Neil Simon fave runs through Sept. 11 at Thalian Hall’s Ruth & Bucky Stein Theatre.
As the title characters in “The Sunshine Boys” — Neil Simon’s 1972 comedy about the members of an aging, once-famous vaudeville duo who enter into an uncomfortable reunion — watching Jon Stafford and Tony Rivenbark go at it is a master class in curmudgeon.
At times, the actors’ back-and-forth is like the vicious bickering of a couple that’s been married for far too long. At others, it can recall a pair of grumpy old men on a park bench.
Which is a lot more fun than it sounds in this professionally staged, well-paced production directed by Judy Greenhut for Thalian Hall’s Cube Theatre group. “The Sunshine Boys” opened last week in the Hall’s upstairs Ruth and Bucky Stein Theatre and runs through Sept. 11 — an interesting closing date considering that the last time the show ran at Thalian Hall (on the main stage, with Rivenbark and Opera House Theatre Co.’s late Lou Criscuolo), it was 2001 and the show’s opening week was impacted by 9/11.
Like much of Simon’s work, the banter-heavy, joke-filled script is also heavy with meaning. The play is about getting old and how people deal — or don’t — with feelings of loneliness and irrelevance, a theme that’s brilliantly tied to the fading of vaudeville’s cultural importance.
The story focuses on Stafford’s character, Willie Clark, who lives in a dumpy New York City apartment that he leaves less and less often. For more than 40 years he was half of the comedy duo Lewis and Clark. But then his partner, Al Lewis, played by Rivenbark, abruptly retired, leaving Willie at loose ends and extremely angry. When the play opens, he hasn’t spoken with Al in more than a decade.
“I’m happy. I just look miserable,” he tells his nephew — and agent — Ben (a solid, steady Hal Cosec), who visits him with groceries and the occasional audition. But Willie’s fading memory wreaks havoc with line readings,…