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The Sunshine Boys at Old Mill Theatre

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Cranky comics in classic comedy from Odd Couple author
The Sunshine Boys, Neil Simon, Old Mill Theatre, play, comic, cranky, performing arts, Lalapalooza Productions, humour, stage
Tom Rees, left, as Willie Clark and Rex Gray as Al Lewis in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys. Picture: Sarah Christiner


Two legendary - and cranky - comics are being brought together for a reunion and revival of their famous act at the Old Mill Theatre this spring. Written by Neil Simon and directed by Dale James, Lalapalooza Productions is presenting The Sunshine Boys where a young theatrical agent tries to re-unite his elderly uncle, a former vaudevillian great, with his long-time stage partner for a TV reunion.

The two old men have not spoken in 12 years and have numerous issues to work out before they are ready to return to the public eye. Both touching and humorous, the play reveals a profound understanding of the stubbornness, childishness and professional neglect that is often inseparable from old age.

Playwright Neil Simon is famed for iconic plays such as The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers and Biloxi Blues, among many others. A 1975 film adaptation of The Sunshine Boys featured George Burns and Walter Matthau while the 1996 film starred Woody Allen, Peter Falk and Sarah Jessica Parker.

The Sunshine Boys, Neil Simon, Old Mill Theatre, play, comic, cranky, performing arts, Lalapalooza Productions, humour, stage
The Sunshine Boys features Rex Gray, left, and Tom Rees as two performers who haven't spoken in 12 years after their double-act dissolved. Picture: Sarah Christiner.

"The play is about a love-hate relationship between two friends and how they respect each other's ability but, after working together most of their lives, they end up in a bitter friendship," Dale said. "My inspiration for directing the play comes from Neil Simon's writing he has the ability to show us the raw emotions and failings of people, usually with humour. The challenge is to make this version a little different for the actors because, having previously done the show, they need to be enthused and fresh with their delivery, changing nuances where appropriate."

Rex Gray plays Al Lewis, one of the vaudeville team known as "Lewis and Clark". "Over the course of 40-odd years, Al and Willie Clark not only grew to hate each other but never spoke to each other off-stage throughout the final year of their act," he said. "Much of the humour is derived from efforts to get the two cantankerous actors into the same room for a rehearsal, their differences of opinion once they re-unite and their shenanigans on the TV reunion broadcast."

After a break of many years, Rex returned to theatre in 2010 and has since performed with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of WA, Playlovers and Melville and Old Mill Theatres in Fiddler On The Roof, Candide, The Gondoliers, Scrooge The Musical, Born Yesterday, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Snow and Ash, Hail Mary I and II, The Beast and The Beauty and It's All Greek To Me I and II.

The Sunshine Boys, Neil Simon, Old Mill Theatre, play, comic, cranky, performing arts, Lalapalooza Productions, humour, stage
Rex Gray, right, in a poignant moment with Tom Rees in The Sunshine Boys


He has also appeared in the acclaimed Under Any Old Gum Tree at the Old Mill Theatre, Irish Club of WA and in Collie, as well as playing to full houses in Ireland's Galway Fringe Festival. In 2015, Rex was named best actor in a supporting role at Dramafest, the annual state drama festival, for his role in Noel O'Neill's Armistice Day.

And he's no stranger to Neil Simon's work he has appeared in Barefoot in the Park at Melville Theatre and a previously successful run of The Sunshine Boys at Harbour Theatre earlier this year. "I know how good Simon's plays are, so the chance to reprise my role as Al Lewis was too good an opportunity to pass up," Rex said. "The challenge is whether I can breathe new life into the character and not just repeat what was done last time, even though I think I did a pretty good job of it."

The Sunshine Boys, Neil Simon, Old Mill Theatre, play, comic, cranky, performing arts, Lalapalooza Productions, humour, stage
Nurse O'Neil (Victoria Dixon, left) checks in on Willie Clark (Tom Rees) in The Sunshine Boys.


Tom Rees is Willie Clark, someone who has been living alone in a hotel room for 40 years. "He feels he was abandoned when his partner Al Lewis retired after their 43-year collaboration," he said. "Willie has never forgiven Al for walking out on him 11 years beforehand and has not spoken to him since.

"He struggles with memory problems, making it difficult for him to get work in the advertising industry. As a result, Willie is a sad and lonely old man who comes across as grumpy and quite often openly hostile."

The main challenge, according to Tom, is getting the balance right between the grumpy, ungrateful old man and the frightened, lonely character within. "Another is being able to switch between the belligerence towards Al and the expression of tender memories towards the man Willie once admired so much," he said.

The Sunshine Boys, Neil Simon, Old Mill Theatre, play, comic, cranky, performing arts, Lalapalooza Productions, humour, stage
Al Lewis (Rex Gray, left) and Willie Clark (Tom Rees) at loggerheads in The Sunshine Boys.


Acting since his early 20s, Tom has a wealth experience to his credit performing with the Old Mill, Rockingham, Kwinana, Playlovers, Harbour and Melville Theatres, Graduate Dramatic Society and at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, Subiaco Arts Centre and Regal Theatre.

"The Sunshine Boys appealed because I am a great fan of Neil Simon's plays, having twice played Felix in The Odd Couple," he said. "Now as an older actor, I felt the role of Willie would be ideal for me. The chance to work with director Dale James was another important factor in my decision to audition."

The Sunshine Boys plays at 8pm, November 1, 2, 3 and 4 with a 2pm matinee November 4. Tickets are $25, $20 concession book at www.trybooking.com/SJWU. The heritage-listed Old Mill Theatre is on the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road, South Perth (opposite the Windsor Hotel and Australia Post).

The Sunshine Boys, Neil Simon, Old Mill Theatre, play, comic, cranky, performing arts, Lalapalooza Productions, humour, stage
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Why? There are plenty of laughs that come from us recognising our own aged relatives in a similar situation but the play also provides its own poignant moments.
When: 8pm, November 1, 2, 3 and 4 with a 2pm matinee November 4.
Where: Old Mill Theatre, Mends Street, South Perth
Cost: $25, $20 concession
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