DIRECTED BY L. Douglas Bord-Pire
Attic theatre will open the 67th season with an old friend,
Neil Simon’s THE SUNSHINE BOYS.
First produced by Attic in 1989, The Sunshine Boys tells the story of a friendship on the rocks. Al and Willie as "Lewis and Clark" were top-billed vaudevillians for over forty years. Now they aren't even speaking. When CBS requests them for a "History of Comedy" retrospective, a grudging reunion brings the two back together, along with a flood of memories, miseries and laughs.
"It's ham on wry...Simon's sure footed craftsmanship and his one liners are as exquisitely apt as ever." -New York Post
You won’t want to miss this classic comedy sure to sell out!!
June 7th to June 16th.
Meet the Director:
L. Douglas Bord-Pire has been on the stage for Attic in past seasons as an actor but is now stepping off the stage to direct Neil Simon’s Sunshine Boys. Past directing credits include Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Atomic Summer, Almost Maine, and Calendar Girls. Doug feels that directing is the natural progression for him. He recognized that he would always have an opinion (using his inside voice) as an actor on stage as to what he would do as a director. What a great opportunity to be able to flex that voice now directing a show form one of his favorite playwrights, Neil Simon.
Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Sunshine Boys' lead crackles in Menasha
by Warren Gerds
MENASHA, Wis. - Seat A-11 is the front row. Stretch your legs, and your feet touch the performing surface. You could place your program on the prop desk at your elbow, but it would not be proper to invade the space of the play. In seat A-11, you virtually are in the room depicted in the play.
I kid the gent sitting next to me as he settles in, “I hope you know your lines. We’re in the show.”
Ha-ha. A funny little joke.
But sometimes life does us one better.
Funnier thing is, Chuck Wegner, the gent, WAS in the show presented by Attic Theatre. Twenty-eight years ago, he had the lead, Willie Clark, a crusty vaudeville performer.
Now he and his wife are catching “The Sunshine Boys” because they attend Attic Theatre performances regularly.
Wednesday’s opening night in Lucia Baehman Theatre in the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley Communications Arts Center was a bit special for other reasons. It was the first performance of the first production for the organization under its revised name, Attic Chamber Theatre. All performances will be in this theater in the three-quarters round and up close and personal.
By intermission, it’s clear that “The Sunshine Boys” is one of Neil Simon’s sharpest-written plays. His love of vaudeville performers oozes through his words. The guys playing the two old, old vaudevillians in the play have picked up on that – especially Dick Furniss as the central character, Willie Clark.
Neil Simon was immersed in showbiz types as a TV writer early in his career. He also had contact with the rat-a-tat, joke-upon-joke, crack-upon-crack vaudevillians as a baton of comedy was passed from the live stage to that of television. In “The Sunshine Boys,” the live, seat-of-your-pants comedians are right there in Willie Clark and his longtime partner/aggravation, Al Lewis (Robert Ernst).
The language of Willie and Al is drollery and spice – deadpan digs and da-da-dump one-liners and only a few vague niceties. Somewhere in their sea of quips, cleverness, real and fake meanness and real and fake spite, along with one-upmanship, is sincerity wearing camo. These are juicy characters for actors to play, and Furniss and Ernst play them well.
Furniss and Ernst even get to play a routine that made Lewis and Clark famous as vaudevillians: A taxman goes to the doctor, and they end up examining each other. And there’s a buxom blonde. The skit is goofy as all get out, but in the play it deliberately crashes in dress rehearsal as the oldtimers’ fangs flash when old pet peeves return.
This reprise performance was to be a huge honor for them. A CBS-TV special is recognizing comedy greats, and Lewis and Clark are to bring back their classic bit for a national audience to savor. Willie Clark’s, nephew, Ben Silverman (Brad Dokken), has worked extremely hard to finesse his irascible uncle into the position where he would accept appearing with Lewis, who he hasn’t spoken to in 11 years.
Willie Lewis is not likable on the surface. Selfish, doddering, forgetful, dismissive, know-it-all-ative. Not nice. Neil Simon and Dick Furniss and director L. Douglas Bord-Pire make Willie Clark likably not likable. They make him a person. Slice him and dice him any way you wish, but Willie Clark is a life. He is a definitive being. And interesting. Neil Simon probably liked him because Willie Clark was of the cloth he could tailor into an interesting story with an outpouring of old-style jokes. Even Willie’s everyday byplay with Ben runs like a vaudeville routine, starting with the front door that practically takes a locksmith to open for all the fussy dead bolts that Willie as to fiddle with to get the door to open each time.
Maybe Willie being a fallible human being is what keeps put-upon nephew Ben Silverman coming back every Wednesday. Ben makes sure Willie has such necessities as food and a copy of Variety (the showbiz bible) – and un-necessities, three cigars. If Willie Clark answers Ben’s kindnesses with wise-acre remarks and brusque behavior, that’s just the way he is. And Ben accepts him. And Ben does all manner of things to make grumbly Willie happy.
It took a bit of time for Wednesday’s performance to hit a rhythm – and there was fudging of lines and the matter of an open zipper and some tech stuff with a TV set that could have worked better – but when the show rolled, it rolled. The reunion of Lewis and Clark was all thrust and parry, give and take, serve and volley, jab to jab, all very deadpan and milked for timing. The thing sizzled.
At intermission, Chuck Wegner tapped his forehead and said, “A lot of the lines are still here” from when he performed the role in the day when Attic Theatre performed at Lawrence University in Appleton. After the performance, he seemed to marvel at Simon (the writer) and Clark (the character) and Furniss (the actor) when he said, “All the lines, all the lines.” He also noted that community theater is a great activity.
Creative: Playwright – Neil Simon; director L. Douglas Bord-Pire; stage manager – Jennifer Steffen; production designer – Scott Wirtz-Olsen; costume design – Wendy Bauman; props master – Matthew Boerst; technical director – Elizabeth Ahels
Cast: Willie Clark – Dick Furniss; Ben Silverman – Brad Dokken; Al Lewis – Robert Ernst; Nurse – Sommer Johnson-Loar; Patient – Kurt Schlieter; Eddie – Tessio Iniguez; Registered Nurse – Amanda Lorge; TV Director – Doug Bord-Pire
Running time: Two hours, five minutes
Remaining performances: 7 p.m. June 8, 9, 10, 13; 2 p.m. June 11
The message of troupe president Berray Billington in the season program is worth passing on because of the changes “that will set us apart.” The list:
+ “1. We are introducing our Chamber theatre concept. We will continue our relationship with UW-Fox Valley, but have moved our performances exclusively into the Lucia Baehman theatre. No seat is more than 30 feet from the stage, which will allow our audience to be closer to the action and hear every word.
+ “2. In the lobby, we introduced new refreshments and hopefully are creating an exciting adult evening of theatre.
+ “3. We continue to find the newest and most exciting shows which engage and challenge our audiences.
+ “4. We will continue to showcase the masters of musical theatre with our Music In The Attic concert series. This October 4th-7th we will present “S’Wonderful: an Evening of Gershwin.”
+ “5. We rolled out the Attic Theatre play reading club in conjunction with local libraries.
+ “6. We will be holding talk backs after our shows, so you can ask questions of our staff and actors.”
NEXT: “Other Desert Cities” by Jon Robin Baitz, June 28-July 8.
THE VENUE: Lucia Baehman Theatre is a 125-seat rectangular space in the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley Communication Arts Center. Lined by black stage curtains on each wall, the space serves as a black-box theater. There are no adornments, and the stage and space are adaptable to whatever a production needs. The adjacent lobby is spacious and includes a ticket office, snack service area, restrooms and spaces for art and photo displays. The center opened in 2009.
THE PEOPLE: Lucia Baehman and her husband, Stan, are longtime supporters of theater in the Fox RiverValley.