Jack Klugman and Tony Randall are a study in finesse for the National Actors Theater’s 25th-anniversary revival of “The Sunshine Boys.” The duo works Neil Simon’s quips as if each line were a scene in itself, though the production’s pace is slowed to a crawl by director John Tillinger.
Although Klugman and Randall haven’t yet added all the texture necessary for their roles — after decades as “The Odd Couple” they seem to be seeking a new balance — their Sunshine Boys are crowd-pleasers, humorous with a layer of pathos absent from the actors’ earlier pairings. (The revival plays Miami’s Coconut Grove Playhouse through Nov. 23, prior to a December transfer to NAT’s Broadway home, the Lyceum Theater).
“The Sunshine Boys” trips over the sentimental emphases, especially given its presently sluggish pace. Some zip wouldn’t injure the warm-fuzzy approach, and might enhance the stars’ already impressive stage presence.
Klugman is the irascible Willie Clark, chafing in career limbo since his stage partner, Al Lewis (Randall), retired 11 years earlier. Klugman’s raspy voice has strength and body, adding a wrinkle to the curmudgeonly persona, while Randall is the more practical of the characters, working the straight role to find sympathy and comic payoffs.
Willie’s agent/nephew (Matthew Arkin) hopes to be the peacemaker between the two ex-vaudevillians, and it’s a thankless job but a profitable role: Arkin is a lively foil for both stars. Ebony Jo-Ann wins deserved exit applause as the registered nurse who stands up to Klugman, and Peggy Joyce Crosby’s come-hither cameo in a doctor sketch owes as much to costumer Noel Taylor’s rigging as to her own wiles. James Noone’s set, which will be transported north for the Broadway run, is a deliciously decrepit rendering of Clark’s once-glorious apartment suite.