Review: The Sunshine Boys (Soulpepper)

Eric Peterson and Kenneth Welsh in The Sunshine boys

Soulpepper brings some seasoned talent to Toronto’s theatre fold with a Neil Simon production.

Until last night I hadn’t ever seen The Sunshine Boys. The Soulpepper production at the Young Centre was a great introduction. You can always count on a Neil Simon play to be funny and touching and The Sunshine Boys is both. More touching than I expected.The Sunshine Boys is the story of a vaudeville team – Lewis and Clark – who performed together for 40 years and never really got along. They haven’t spoken for ten years when they are invited to do a TV special about the history of comedy. On the surface it’s not a particularly complex story. Willie Clark – played by Eric Peterson – lives alone in a hotel room and is lonely and bitter. Al Lewis – Kenneth Welsh – is happily living with his daughter.

Both men are set in their ways and each is convinced that the other is the problem. The resulting attempt to do the TV special is very funny.

It’s a joy to see mature, talented actors at work. Peterson and Welsh are both so talented. I love it when an actor can get a big laugh just by moving his eyes slightly. Comedy is tough and they both have it mastered. Their timing is perfect and they both can be broad or subtle, depending on what is needed.

I said earlier that the show was more touching than I expected. The subtext is about aging, being alone, not being able to work anymore. There is no “happy ending” even though the ending is funny. Getting old is not all fun. Getting old alone is even less fun. For people my age – 62 – there’s a double whammy if you still have parents. You’re getting old and trying to find ways to accept it gracefully and make whatever changes to your life that you have to make. At the same time your parents are really old. Maybe they’re alert and healthy, but if they’re 90 you know they aren’t going to be around much longer. Or maybe they’re physically ok but starting to lose it mentally and you have to make decisions about their future.

None of this is terrible; it’s just life and it’s going to happen so you might as well make the most of it. Still, it can be hard. You still laugh a lot, but sometimes you cry. Last night I laughed a lot even at the end when I was crying.

An aside; Overheard in the women’s washroom at intermission: “That old guy with the glasses (Welsh) is really funny. I didn’t even know that old people could still act.” I’m not sure whether she meant that she thought they weren’t allowed to or that they weren’t capable anymore. If you think that old people can’t still act, you definitely should go see The Sunshine Boys. I think you’ll see two masters of their craft.

Details:

– The Sunshine Boys is Playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (The Distillery District) until September 22nd
– Evening performances are at 8 pm and Wednesday and Saturday matinees at at 2 pm. The show isn’t playing every day so check the calendar
– Ticket prices range from $51.00 to $68.00 with student tickets at $32.00 and rush tickets at $22.00
– Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-866-8666 or in person at the Box Office

Photo of Kenneth Welsh and Eric Peterson by Cylla von Tiedemann