When reviewing a local production, I try my best not to let external things influence me.
I can’t let the sympathy that I feel for Benicia Old Town Theatre Group allegedly falling prey to a possible embezzler six months ago influence my opinion of its current show – Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys.”
While I absolutely love experiencing shows at the historic BDES. Hall and look forward to how the staff set me up so nicely with a reserved table and a handy reviewer’s packet, those pleasantries cannot be factored into my opinion of its particular theatrical offering either. The only thing that matters is what the group puts up on the stage.
In its current show, what the group put up on the stage was a masterful, captivating and hilarious rendition of a beloved play. I, and the rest of the audience, was swept up into the story the moment the stage lights went up.
“The Sunshine Boys” is basically about two former Vaudeville comedians who were a highly successful comedy duo for over 40 years. In their old age they are called upon to revive their act once more for a TV show. A tip of the straw boater hat to director Douglas Dildine for delivering such a well-done slice of theater to the community.
The cast was splendid individually and magical together.
Jerry Motta was absolutely brilliant as Willie Clark. His timing and delivery was impeccable and his character’s lovable cantankerousness was infectious. What a joy to see someone absolutely nail it and be so funny, likeable and a bit sad all at once.
Mark Jordan as Al Lewis was also unbelievably efficient at getting inside his character. The irony is that Motta and Jordan were playing characters that were legendary for their comic sensibilities and timing and both displayed those abilities in spades when portraying them.
Allan Kew as Ben Clark, Willie’s nephew, was superb as he was the straight man for most of the show and he too immersed himself into his character.
Janet Duhe had a small role as the registered nurse and made every second count. Not in a scene-stealing way at all, but in a manner that augmented the show and was on par with those with bigger roles.
Brian Hough as the Aahh-man – he stuck out his tongue and went “aah” in the doctor skit – and Natasha Harris as the bombshell burlesque nurse rounded out the cast well.
Not listed in the program were Clinton Vidal and Cindy Smith who did a bang-up job providing live sound effects such as whistles, cowbell and horn blasts at precise moments during the Vaudeville act. Just when I thought it needed more cowbell they added some also.
Jeff Sloan deserves special mention for the splendid sound design. When it is seamless you know someone has worked hard closing up the seams.
Since the play is set in the 1970’s, there were also smile-inducing audio from TV shows (such as when John Lennon and Yoko Ono co-hosted the Mike Douglas show) and vintage commercials (The Frito Bandito, the “I’m a Pepper” Dr Pepper ad and the “how-do-you-get-to-the-Tootsie-roll-center-of-a-Tootsie Pop?” one).
In September at the Arty Awards, which honors outstanding Solano County theater, Benicia Old Town Theatre Group was given a special Arty for its incredible longevity.
“The Sunshine Boys” is the opening show in the company’s 50th season. If you want to know how a community theater company managed to remain vital through five decades, go see “The Sunshine Boys.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at email@example.com
“The Sunshine Boys”
Benicia Old Town Theatre Guild
8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Nov. 1-2, Nov. 8-9
2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3
BDES Hall, 140 West J. St., Benicia
four stars out of four