“Taxi” is my all-time favorite television series! So I was so excited to see my favorites Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch starring in Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys” at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre. You get no better insight into the world of stand-up comedy than through this Simon play.
Unfortunately DeVito seemed to be the only actor onstage having fun informing us of this world of joke writing and performing. Who cares if DeVito’s character reminds us of his “Taxi” unforgettable predecessor delegating jobs to a bunch of wily cab drivers, it works!
From the opening of Act One, DeVito delivers an easiness and comfort that enable’s the audience to love his egocentric aging comic sensibilities. Sometimes size does matter and, in this case, DeVito’s height and physicality makes the audience forgive him and fall in love with all of his antics. With this said, his fellow actors now have to match his brilliance and, disappointingly, they do not.
Beginning with Justin Bartha who plays DeVito’s nephew, his agent and responsible family member that oversees his uncle’s personal needs and career choices. I kept wanting Bartha to bring the same energy and enthusiasm that DeVito did, but his self-conscious physicality and connection to his character lacked intention. There is a scene where Bartha is moving furniture and props seemingly without motive or reason. Whereas DeVito was clearly having a blast with Simon’s material.
Next up is the long-awaited entrance of our beloved co-star Hirsch which sadly fell flat. Wishing for the best, I kept hoping Hirsch would pick up the energy as he was playing with long time friend from “Taxi”, DeVito, but this never happened. Simon’s language is so much fun, it almost delivers itself but when you have a pro like DeVito, everyone must come up to the tennis match.
There is a wonderfully directed scene of one-up man ship that made me giggle when both DeVito and Hirsch continually rearrange the table and chairs prior to their first rehearsal debacle. Kudos to Thea Sharrock, the director, for bringing precious Pinter-like pauses and lovely silences that illustrate this long-term friendship that, with some nurturing, could last forever and thrive.
We want it to survive as we understand the genius of vaudeville! If only to watch the doctor scene with the perfectly matched Annie Abrams, as the sexy nurse, and DeVito’s doctor is worth the price of admission. Wonderfully executed as both actors are having so much fun! Unfortunately you can’t follow the scene with the real “nurse” played by Gibby Brand opposite DeVito. It just doesn’t take off. With DeVito in the bed opposite Brand, the air stagnates and you keep wishing for the return of vaudeville and the joy of Abrams.
The play ends with hope that these two comics could once again reunite. Hirsch’s love for DeVito comes through when DeVito is recovering while Hirsch is telling jokes and stories to reminisce with his long time friend. All in all, I am so happy I saw this rendition of a wonderful Simon classic. Mostly cloudy with rays of sunny skies, boys!
Get you tickets now at Center Theatre Group online or by calling 213-628-2772
Sunshine Boys runs now through November 3, 2013