Originally Published: January 10, 2012 9:55 p.m.
Disparate characters, indeed, do play out as "two shining lights that beam as one" in "The Sunshine Boys," the famous Neil Simon comedy that opens Thursday on the Prescott Center for the Arts main stage.
From the outset, Willie Clark (Carl Kennedy) is the classic curmudgeon, refusing to give into the reality that he is no longer a star of vaudeville. In fact, he appears to border on dementia when he can't figure out how to get the door open in his dumpy hotel room to let his caretaker nephew Ben Silverman (Keaton Snyder) in for his Wednesday visit to restore his doddering uncle's food stash. Rather than get any thanks, Ben must deflect constant badgering for his failure to get the old man a job.
"I have a terrific face for an upset stomach," Uncle Willy tells Ben, trying to convince him that he'd be great in a commercial for a popular analgesic for digestive problems. Ben reminds Uncle Willy that he tried go get him some gigs doing commercials but that his forgetfulness had caused him to flub his lines, and he lost out.
A subsequent visit from Ben sets the stage for a reunion with erstwhile vaudevillian partner Al Lewis (Sal Castricone), who broke up the team when he had the unmitigated gall to retire after 43 years and go live in peace with his daughter in New Jersey.
It seems Ben's boss at a major television network wants to produce a show on the history of comedy dating back to Greek times and it wouldn't be complete without the "greatest team from vaudeville" - Lewis and Clark - doing just one famous sketch, "The Doctor Will See You Now."
The audience must wonder how these two lights ever beamed as one.
"No," is the resounding reply from Willy. "I don't discuss Al Lewis anymore," he said, admitting he hadn't laid eyes on his old partner for 11 years. "I hate him 11 years more," he said.
Ben begs his uncle to revive the sketch with Al. But Willy keeps the tirade up, complaining that Al had constantly poked him in the chest during their performances, leaving enduring black and blue marks that look like a tattoo, and that when Al uttered words beginning with "t," he spit on him.
The crux of Willy's angst seems to lie in his feeling that when Al retired, "he retired me, too."
Willy finally relents, Al comes for a rehearsal in Willy's hotel room, with Willy's admonition to Ben, "Tell him if he starts with the spitting and poking, I'm taking him to court."
And then even more fun begins with uproarious confrontations and one-liner zingers that never stop.
"I didn't come all the way from New Jersey to argue," says Al. "Do you want to insult me or rehearse the sketch? I didn't retire - I escaped."
"You're as crazy as a bedbug," Al tells Willy, who at one point goes after him with a knife during their rehearsal.
"It's all I can do to keep up with him," said Castricone, who as Al ably manages to hold his ground against Willy's verbal attacks. And Kennedy, who's in his 20th year on the PCA stage, said he had "more lines than I've ever had" in his "high-energy role."
He said he always tries to remember actor James Cagney's rule: "Just say the lines and mean it. That's always stuck with me."
Two supporting actresses add their own well-delivered humor to the two-hour romp - Jenel Tayor as a buxom blond nurse and Pamela Henry-Walker as an R.N.
"The Sunshine Boys" plays at 7:30 p.m. this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and Jan. 19 through Jan. 21, with 2 p.m. matinees on Jan. 15 and Jan. 21. Tickets are $17 for the evening shows and $13 for the afternoon shows, and are available by visiting the box office at 208 N. Marina St., calling the box office at 445-3286, or going online at firstname.lastname@example.org.