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Comedy ‘Sunshine Boys’ plays out a cantankerous relationship

Philip J. Shortell, left, is Al Lewis and James Cady is Willie Clark in “The Sunshine Boys” at the Adobe Theater. (Courtesy of Daryl Streeter)

Philip J. Shortell, left, is Al Lewis and James Cady is Willie Clark in “The Sunshine Boys” at the Adobe Theater. (Courtesy of Daryl Streeter)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sometimes a bromance is like a marriage. You love each other, but it’s the little things that drive you crazy.

Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys” plays out that cantankerous relationship with two one-time vaudeville stars Al Lewis and Willie Clark. The Adobe Theater is producing the comedy starting on Friday, June 19.

The aging Al and Willie called it quits after 40 years in show business when Al walked off the set of “The Ed Sullivan Show” 10 years ago. The pair haven’t spoken since.

“You know people, when they get married, they do things that just irritate” each other, director Lorri Oliver said.

Al pokes Willie in the chest too hard for his partner’s comfort. Unfortunately, he also spits whenever his tongue encounters the letter “t.” But these annoying quirks get swept under the rug.

“To me, it’s a love story between two men,” Oliver said.

All remains unsaid until Willie’s nephew (and agent) Ben announces plans for a reunion in a CBS special about the history of comedy.

“At first, it’s a resounding no,” Oliver said.

But soon both actors agree to the date and chaos ensues.

“The old dysfunction comes back into play,” Oliver said. “They can’t agree on the set. They go into the studio after fighting all week.”

Actor/director James Cady plays Willie, while Philip J. Shortell is Al.

“Jim was a film and TV director in Los Angeles,” Oliver said. “He’s 70 and I’ve seen his crochety side working with him. He’s a brilliant actor. His comic timing is fantastic.”

Shortell is Oliver’s partner.

“He is also a tremendous actor,” she said. “He’s also got the good comic instincts.

“Sometimes it’s slow and intense and at other times it’s snap, crack dialogue,” she added.

“The Sunshine Boys” opened on Broadway in 1972 starring Jack Albertson and Sam Levene.

The 1975 film starring George Burns and Walter Matthau was her father’s favorite, Oliver said. Burns won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance.

“They have this snappy rapport my Dad and my uncle had,” she said. “They were the biggest punksters on the planet.”

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