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Theater review: A sparkling ‘Sunshine Boys’

B’ville Theatre Guild stages Neil Simon’s crotchety comedy

In a rehearsal for the Vaudeville sketch "The Doctor Will See you now," Nurse McIntosh (Kate Hoy) tries to help Willie Clark as Dr. Klockenmeyer (John LaCasse). "Mr Melnyk" is at the right.

In a rehearsal for the Vaudeville sketch "The Doctor Will See you now," Nurse McIntosh (Kate Hoy) tries to help Willie Clark as Dr. Klockenmeyer (John LaCasse). "Mr Melnyk" is at the right.

— Drawing on one of its strengths – its deep pool of experienced comic actors – the Baldwinsville Theatre Guild breathes new life into Neil Simon’s old show-biz warhorse, “The Sunshine Boys,” now running weekends through Nov. 11.

Fresh from his farcical turn as Senator Fipp in BTG’s “Urinetown,” John LaCasse plays the cantankerous Willie Clark, an aging vaudevillian seeking a mid-1980s comeback via television commercials, preferably for Alka-Seltzer.

Willie’s longtime comic partner, the retired and retiring Al Lewis, is portrayed by another talented BTG veteran, Jon Barden, who also drew laughs in “Urinetown” as the bladder-challenged Old Man Strong.

Cast as antagonistic curmudgeons in “The Sunshine Boys,” Barden and LaCasse bounce lines off each other the way good basketball players bounce passes. LaCasse’s Willie rages and rants. Barden’s Al complains and cajoles.

You see, Willie has never forgiven Al for breaking up the act 11 years ago, after 43 long years of relative success on the road. When Willie’s agent-nephew – Ben Silverman portrayed by Jon Wright – gets the duo a gig on a television special paying tribute to vaudeville, the two old showmen are reluctantly reunited.

LaCasse and Barden repeatedly rise to the occasion as they deliver Simon’s clever dialogue.

“Oh, you’re a funny man, Al,” Willie begrudgingly admits, “a pain in the ass but a funny man.”

“You know what your trouble is, Willy?” Al responds. “You always took the jokes too seriously. It was just jokes. We did comedy on the stage for 43 years. I don't think you enjoyed it once.”

But Willie gets the last laugh: “If I was there to enjoy it,” he said, “I’d buy a ticket.”

LaCasse and Barden are ably supported by Wright as Willie’s exasperated nephew and by Kathy Burke Egloff as an equally exasperated Irish nurse. George Glaski plays Eddie, a hapless TV stage manager, while curvy, crimson-coiffed Kate Hoy easily steals the few scenes in which she appears – tasty cheesecake, indeed!

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