The Sunshine Boys
Once you get The Odd Couple theme out of your head, this on-stage reunion of Jack Klugman and Tony Randall shines with biting comedy. Written by Neil Simon, who also wrote the play The Odd Couple, it's the tale of two septuagenarian ex-vaudevillians, Al Lewis (Randall) and Willie Clark (Klugman), who have long stopped talking to each other over an ancient clash. But when CBS wants to bring the two back together again for a television special, old rancors bubble to the surface. Those expecting an exact reproduction of the chemistry between Klugman and Randall in The Odd Couple sitcom may be surprised. Though as fastidious as Felix, Randall's Al isn't as high-strung; here the 77-year-old actor uses his expressive, melancholic face, not a frenetic pitch, to coax a joke. Instead it's Klugman who borders on hysteria with splenetic brilliance, whether rattling off one-liners or vehemently explaining why words that begin with “K” are funny. His performance seethes with ferocity and vitality, hardly indicative of his 75 years. Simon's requisite one-liners spur near non-stop laughter, but they also work to preserve the history of the characters, a once popular Smith-and-Dale type of act. Indeed, these are men who define themselves by their comic timing and delivery, who fall back on comedy as a knee-jerk defense mechanism. Tillinger's loving, lively direction offers several inspired touches, especially the image of Al and Willie standing with backs to each other in opposition, yes, but also for support. As the inimitable Lewis and Clark, Klugman and Randall explore nervy comic territory in a 25-year-old play that holds up as well as its stars.
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