LEWISTON — “The Sunshine Boys,” one of Neil Simon’s most popular comedies, brings memories of vaudeville and TV’s early variety shows to The Public Theatre stage for two weeks beginning May 1.

“This is a master lesson in comedy,” said Janet Mitchko, TPT’s co-artistic director who is at the helm of this laugh-fest. She said it’s an affectionate and touching tribute to the days of vaudeville.
Mitchko directs a talented cast of eight, and she said it has been pure delight to develop this production.
“I guarantee that people of all ages are going to find this play funny, as well as a little touching,” she said.
“The Sunshine Boys” of the title are the famous (fictional) vaudeville team of Lewis and Clark. After 40-plus years of comedic cavorting on stage, they are no longer speaking to each other, on or off the stage. However, when the opportunity to appear together again on a 1972 TV special presents itself, these two comics must decide whether to reunite for one last laugh.
Can they get through their most famous sketch one last time without killing each another?
Hilarity ensues as this grudging reunion brings the two friends back together, along with a flood of memories, miseries and laughs.
“The most wonderful thing about this play is that its humor is timeless,” Mitchko said. “This is, without a doubt, one of Neil Simon’s funniest plays as well as a brilliant tribute to the age of vaudeville.”
Bill Van Horn plays Willie Clark and Michael Dell’Orto is Al Lewis. Both actors have appeared together onstage at The Public Theatre as grandfathers in the comedy, “Over the River and Through the Woods.” Van Horn is also a familiar face at the Theater at Monmouth where he has appeared for the past 16 years. When not working in Maine, he writes, teaches, directs and performs around the country and for Philadelphia’s esteemed Walnut Street Theatre.
Dell’Orto is a professional actor and director in the New England area and can be recognized as the boxing commissioner in the film, “The Fighter,” with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale.
In another major role of the play, Mike Anthony portrays Ben, who is Willie’s put-upon agent and nephew. Anthony was one of the stars in TPT’s hit production of last year, “Moonlight and Magnolias.”
Also returning to the TPT stage is Teri Shepard. She plays Willie’s no-nonsense nurse. Shepard appeared in TPT’s production of “Doubt” in the 2007-08 season.
Rounding out the cast will be local performers Victoria Machado as the voluptuous nurse. Adam Blais plays the man in the skit. Benjamin Cuba plays Eddie and Matthew Delamater is the director of the television special.
Mitchko points out that Simon’s inspiration for “The Sunshine Boys” was the real vaudeville teams of Smith and Dale, who were inseparable life-long friends, and Gallagher and Shean, who were argumentative in personal life.
Mitchko also remarked that the younger members of this cast learned a lot about the history of comedy. When they were reminded that TV’s “Laugh-In” was a broadcast form of vaudeville, the old style was much more recognizable.
Neil Simon wrote some 30 plays and 30 screenplays, including “The Odd Couple.” He sharpened his craft as a writer for classic TV shows including Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” and “The Phil Silvers Show.” He received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.
“The Sunshine Boys” debuted on Broadway in 1972 and was a hit movie in 1975 with George Burns as Lewis and Walter Matthau as Clark.
“The Sunshine Boys” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, May 1 and 7-8; 8 p.m. on Saturdays, May 2 and 9; and at 2 p.m. Sundays, May 3 and 10. There is an additional matinee at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 9.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $16 each for groups of 10 or more, and $5 for anyone 18 and under. Call 782-3200 or visit www.thepublictheatre.org for more information.
The Public Theatre is located at 31 Maple St in downtown Lewiston.

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