Neil Simon story energizes audiences at the Sandy Actors Theatre

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ROD STROH - During a rehearsal for a TV show to honor great comedians, Al (Jim Bumgardner), left, disagrees with his former vaudeville partner, Willie, (Joe Silver), and the talent scout complains about the duo going off script.Anyone mature enough in years to have watched TV shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy or any type of stand-up comedy will love the current production at Sandy Actors Theatre.

But no theater company could go wrong staging a play from the pen of Neil Simon.

“The Sunshine Boys” begins before any actor enters the stage, with the atmosphere created by the mid-20th century set.

Filtering through the theater are the 1940s radio voices of Fibber McGee and Molly, Lum and Abner, Amos and Andy and other comedic radio shows so popular before the advent of television.

The opening-night audience, no doubt, felt like they were visiting a New York City apartment with the former vaudeville team of Lewis and Clark, known to their friends as Willie and Al, portrayed by Joe Silver and Jim Bumgardner.

Also important in this scenario is Willie’s nephew, Ben, portrayed by Kraig Williams, with his indisputable and incessant New York accent.

These two has-been comedians haven’t spoken to each other in many years after a falling out over something miniscule. Their relationship is so volatile that Willie’s nephew, who has accepted some responsibility for Willie’s care, must referee the conflict.

Of high importance with comedy, of course, is timing. Sometimes rapid-fire one-liners will get an audience laughing so much its members won’t be able to stop. Remember Red Skelton, George Burns and Groucho Marx?

Even though the tempo of the first act felt like it was dragging on opening night, Silver and Bumgardner redeemed themselves in the second act by picking up the pace.

Silver and Bumgardner work well together, each staying in his individual character role while the pair laments the joys and irritations of their years together.

But mostly they criticize one another, and Silver — whose memory seems to be fading — continues to reject nephew Williams’ offerings of help to bring the duo together on stage again.

Their relationship is stated in one sentence uttered by Bumgardner (Al) late in the story: “You know something Willie,” Al says, “I don’t think we get along so good.”

On opening night, nephew Williams had to draw upon his years of experience as actor, director and producer to get through his wordy script. When he stumbled on a few words, trying to get them out with proper timing, he had to ad-lib a bit. But to his credit, he stayed in character and kept the story moving.

Opening-night jitters can affect anyone — even Silver, who has been on stage for more than 50 years as well as on TV and in films. But his few missteps were likely unnoticed because experience is the best teacher.

Drawing attention also is Theresa Ritchie Martin, who wows the audience (and Silver) acting as a buxom and friendly nurse in a vaudeville sketch about a doctor (Silver) and his patient (Bumgardner).

Sherry Bonner, a nurse who takes care of Silver while he is recovering from a heart attack, turns in a great, but short, performance. It is her incessant attitude as seen and heard in words and actions that makes her performance memorable.

Other supporting actors who help make this an impressive production include newcomer Tom Coogan and SAT veteran Jim Lamproe.

Director Berta Limbaugh has taken a mix of actors of various backgrounds and woven them into a cohesive unit that does a good job of telling Simon’s story.

Credit for a fabulous period set design must go to Tim Park and the dozen volunteers who helped with set construction.

Stage manager Alisa Phipps and her assistant, Sandi Olsabeck needed some help, as set changes between scenes were too complicated and lengthy.

Also deserving applause was the ambiance created by the lighting and sound effects of Doug Holtry and Tom and Cathy Coogan.

Residents from Gresham to Government Camp who join The Sunshine Boys for an evening at SAT are very likely to find this play among their favorites.

Who could not like a story that takes a person’s emotions from irritation to ambivalence to sorrow and caring, ending with a tug on the heartstrings. And all of the time there is laughter.

That’s the recipe for a great evening out, and the SAT theater company is extending an invitation.

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This comedic production continues three more weekends, with the last performance June 23. “Sunshine Boys” is staged at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 503-668-6834 or visit the website at

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