by Neil Simon
Directed by Roberta MacDonald
The Players of Sarasota
838 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota, 941-365-2494
June 13-16, 27-30, 2013

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

It’s a Neil Simon oldie, one often said to be on the edge of being enduring among his plays. but at The Players of Sarasota it still works. Director Roberta MacDonald has given it a new twist.  It’s not just a realistic portrayal of a couple of once-famous comedians who hate each other but may reunite in a special celebrating  the history of comedy--if  (and it’s a prolonged if) they can stop fighting long enough to stage their key vaudeville sketch. What now comes on is a representational  play within a presentational  one. The latter has Willie Clark, who’s felt abandoned by his partner’s abrupt retirement 11 years ago, dircctly playing to the audience his determination to direct the comeback (if there is to be one) on his own terms. It includes a slight change in dialogue along with insistence on what always makes words funny or not. Being definitely Willie‘s play allows Bob Trisolini to make the most of sassily  dealing with Willie‘s nephew Ben (Kerry Betts). An agent, he’s had a hard time getting his memory-challenged uncle work, even a TV commercial. Willie won’t leave his cold, run-down apartment-turned-digs or go with the times. So that becomes Willie‘s stage set when and where he finally agrees to meet up with Al Lewis to rehearse and deliver their sketch.

The comeback  folds during rehearsal, though, when the usually calmer Lewis (effective Dan Higgs, a dignified contrast to Trisolini) won’t completely follow Willie’s direction. Luckily, the audience does get to watch the old Doctor Is In sketch, complete with a sexpot nurse (comically cute Allison Dietz), silly vocabulary (ah-stick for tongue depressor) and an oversize hypodermic needle before  the principals fight and Willie has a heart attack. Bedded when visited by nephew Kerry, Willie‘s persuaded to move his real life schtick to the Actor’s Home in New Jersey. But not before staging a sketch with Lewis, who visits to express his sorrow over what’s happened.  And that leads to a whole new routine....

Special  notice goes to Martha Kessler for furnishing the props—like battered trunk adorned with place labels, a dirty radiator, old kitchen appliances,  posters, Variety—that set Willie’s perpetual show. (No scenery designer is credited.) Randy Garmer, Bob Nosal, and Leona Collesano fulfill minor roles well. Sandra Musicante stage manages the two hour comedy.

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