The Civic Theatre's 'The Sunshine Boys' Brings Angst, Filled With Respect

Jun 10, 2014

Actors Art Nemitz (left) and James Carver star in The Civic Theatre's production of 'The Sunshine Boys.'
Credit Courtesy of The Civic Theatre

One might think that a comedy duo called "The Sunshine Boys" would have a welcoming, funny rapport. And they did - professionally. But offstage was a different story. 

The Civic Theatre is presenting their adaptation of this Neil Simon classic, where two aging vaudeville entertainers are cajoled into performing one last time for a television special.

But getting them together brings up issues that they never quite resolved - until now. The annoyance expressed by the two main characters, Al Lewis and Willy Clark, makes for classic comedic moments, as does the stress that Clark's nephew and talent agent, Ben has to endure from his uncle.

"The character I play is a younger character taking care of his older uncle, who gives him a lot of grief," says actor Ben Zylman, who is playing Ben in the show. "But there's a love there - there's just such a bond there and I think so many of us - all of us in a family situation can identify with that."

Zylman is also the marketing director for the Civic. He's been an actor for over three decades, and credits his training to James Carver and Art Nemitz, the two starring actors in the show.

"I've worked for both of them as an actor, they've directed me, and I've learned so much from both of them. So I feel so fortunate to be sharing the stage with them in this production."

James Carver plays Vaudevillian Willy Clark with Kris Allemang Stahl as the Nurse in the comedy duo's famous 'Doctor' sketch.
Credit Courtesy of The Civic Theatre

Carver and Nemitz have a strong professional relationship and personal bond that translates into an easy rapport onstage. Carver retired as managing director of the Civic in 1997, has returned to serve as the theater's artist in residence. Nemitz did his first show at the Civic in 1966, and this is his third time performing in The Sunshine Boys.

"I've directed Jim, Jim has directed me, we have played together in one show previously before this, but it's like you're putting on a pair of comfortable shoes and a nice, warm sweater," says Nemitz. "It's very comfortable because we know each other so well."

Carver, who now calls California home, agrees. "It's like you know what to expect from the other actor. There are no surprises. So, it's not hard work. I mean it's tough but it's not hard work 'cause you're gonna play off of something that you know is already coming. And so that makes it a lot easier."

Actors Carver and Nemitz both say that the plot teaches a lesson about friendship - and humor.

"Underneath, they love each other, and that's what saves it from being just grouchy is that they love each other," says Carver. "They have great respect for each other."

Adds Nemitz, "It's a show that's got a lot of subtext. There may be a lot of arguments and a lot of things hurled back and forth, but underneath that there is another level and that is of 43 years of being together is not going to be disrupted."

"The Sunshine Boys" runs June 13 - 22.