Welsh (l) and Peterson (photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann)
Sunshine at Soulpepper amid reflections on passing time
by Cassie Muise
I have always had a bit of a crush on everything Soulpepper. From the Distillery District, to the Young Centre, to the founding members – who doesn’t love Ted Dykstra’s Two Pianos Four Hands? Albert Schultz in The Odd Couple = talent crush! – so I was excited to get the chance to see their production of Sunshine Boys. Luckily, it didn’t disappoint my high expectations. Off the top the smooth, warm lighting transitions, ukulele and harmonica music, paired with the clean, flawless set bring the audience into the world of the play effortlessly.
the dynamic between the two characters, Al and Willie, was perfect
As we eased our way into the second act, I felt the show took on a completely new life; with the help of a slew of great supporting characters, the dynamic between the two characters, Al and Willie, was perfect. I particularly enjoyed Sarah Wilson as a sexy Nurse, and Quancetia Hamilton as a more realistic one. Ben became a clear mediator to me, instead of a half-hearted nephew. And it would be unfair not to mention Kenneth Welsh’s work as Al Lewis, with his perfect timing and earned silences. Beyond his high-pitched vocal habits, which vanished almost entirely in the second act, Eric Peterson is stellar. Indeed, it is hard not to love the somewhat-neurotic-washed-up-actor character, but in the hands of Peterson, Willie is more than just that. He is a widower, a hard-worker, and possibly even an optimist. What else can keep a man going after years of loss and disappointment? Of auditions bombed and submissions gone unanswered? While in the first act they talked a lot about things – albeit in the witty, biting way only Neil Simon can write – in the second act, I saw the tensions, understood their root, and took them on.
Clever direction by Ted Dykstra allowed me to be a witness to their inevitable confrontation without making it feel too predictable or stale. It was all at once heartbreaking and hilarious. This play explores many topics that aren’t all that funny: ageing, success, relationships. I think without embracing the real vulnerability of our mortality, it would be impossible for this play to achieve the depth and ultimately the laughs that it does. This is its greatest strength; the fearlessness and honesty of the performances. More than once, I found my eyes teary, which surprised me. The tenderness was unexpected, but not unwelcome. Perhaps best of all, the transitions between funny and not-so-funny moments were easy and avoided being sappy. When I rose to my feet at the end, I reflected for a moment on how easy it was for me to do such a simple thing. For now.