By Jane Primerano, Guest Reviewer
Lewis and Clark, not the ones who mapped the Pacific Northwest, the Vaudevillians, haven’t spoken in 11 years, after 43 years as a comic duo.
Now they’ve been asked to do one of their classic sketches on a television special about the history of comedy. It’s up to Willie Clark’s nephew and agent, Ben Silverman, to bring them together. Because this is a classic Neil Simon comedy, they rebel hilariously. (Left: David Edwards and Carl Wallnau)
The Centenary Stage Company production of The Sunshine Boys opened on Friday, Feb. 14, and runs through Sunday, March 1.
Opening night was packed and the audience’s laughter shook the spacious Sitnik Theatre in the Lackland Performing Arts Center on the Hackettstown campus.
As is common with Centenary productions, the first star the audience saw was the marvelous set by designer Matthew Imhoff. The play opens in Clark’s shabby hotel “suite,” which, we learn, used to be five rooms but has been reduced to one with a bathroom and kitchenette. Imhoff gives us a sense of the elegance of pre-war New York City and how it has decayed, down to the details of pictures on the wall and tchotchkes on shelves.
Clark is portrayed by Carl Wallnau right), the founding artistic director of the Centenary State Company as well as chair of the Fine Arts Department of the university. Wallnau shuffles, argues, yells, cracks jokes and reads Variety as his nephew, played by Jason Silverman, tries to talk him out of his feud with Lewis and into the CBS studio.
Silverman is an excellent foil to Wallnau’s crusty Clark who refuses to acknowledge he may be getting older and forgetful. He uses flattery, guilt and the threat of withholding his uncle’s cigars to get him to agree to at least meet with Lewis.
Lewis is portrayed by David Edwards. Wallnau, Edward and Silverman all appeared in Laughter on the 23rd Floor at Bristol Riverside Theatre last year. Edwards is a veteran of CSC productions as well.
Wallnau and Edwards (top photo) fall easily into the roles of old partners/friends/enemies. They quip, bicker and attack with the masterful timing of two old veterans. A recurring joke is reading obituaries in Variety and arguing about who the person was: a bad composer? the manager of a restaurant? Sophie Tucker’s agent? They also take a hilarious several minutes setting up for the skit.
Although Lewis and Clark are the center of the production, along with Silverman the nephew, the supporting cast is very important. Two of the actors are Centenary students, Gabriel Landes, who plays Eddie the TV assistant on the set of the show, and Ryan Robert Washington who plays the patient in the Lewis and Clark “Doctor’s Skit.” Landes shows nerves, frustration and confusion masterfully. Washington had less to do, but he conveyed the proper amount of nervousness as he was “examined” by the doctor. He was also assistant director of the show.
Emaline Williams (left, with Wallnau) portrayed the nurse in the skit. She only had a few lines, but every man in the audience appreciated her burlesque delivery. And her “uniform.” Williams obviously enjoyed vamping around the stage in very un-nurse shoes and stockings and did so with panache.
The “real” nurse in the show was Reva Jamison who stood up to a now-bedridden Clark in the late scenes of the play. She showed just the right tone and movements.
Heard by not seen was Kevin Wehrhahn, an intern with CSC who provided the disembodied voice of the director of the TV show.
As with most Centenary performances, The Sunshine Boys is well worth venturing into the February cold.
Shows are Saturdays, Feb. 15, 22 and 29 at 8 p.m., Sundays Feb. 16 and 23 and March 1 at 2 p.m., Fridays Feb. 21 and 28 at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Feb. 19 and 26 at 2 p.m. and Thursdays Feb 20 and 27 at 8 p.m. The box office is open Monday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. and two hours before each performance.
Photos by Christopher Young.