Danny DeVito in a Neil Simon play. could almost be enough said!
It’s an amazing display of great acting without overacting, a very subtle display of loneliness, hard feelings and a longing for a purpose in life. The man is never off stage and he is absolutely fabulous, too.
The story is the portrait of Willie Clark (DeVito), who for 30 odd years had played a double comedy act with Al Lewis (the equally great Richard Griffiths) – the two had a fantastic career and were a sought out success – until one day and out of the blue for Willie Al decided he wanted to retire. And while Al had a wife, a home and basically a life to fall back to, Willie’s life collapsed. With no money to speak of and an estranged wife, he fled into a shabby old hotel where he now lives in a desolate apartment, dreaming of happy days past and nursing a huge grudge towards Al, whom he holds responsible for his situation. His only connection to the real world is his nephew Ben (Adam Levy) who comes every Wednesday to fill up the fridge and provide Willie with his favorite entertainment magazine he peruses only, it seems, to scour the obituaries.
Until one day Eddie has news: The TV station for which he works plans a program about Vaudeville and comedy acts and wants both Willie and Al back for one performance. For Willie, this is a way out of being forgotten, for Al a way to reconcile with his earstwhile partner. So the two meet.
Unfortunately they know each other far too well – so just like an old married couple the bickering starts immediately and because they do know each other so well they find exactly the things to say to drive the other up the walls.
The sketch they plan to do (a variation on the real life performance of “Dr Kronkheit [Krankheit=illness in German] and his only living patient” about an incompetent Doctor and his wiseass patient with which two actual comedians – Smith and Dale – have been incredibly successful for – brace yourselves – 70 years till the 1970!!) is hilarious but at the day of the show Willie doesn’t show up – he claims some new grudge but the fact is that he is ill – and collapsing with a heart attack.
True to form he survives and soon entertains his nurse with his sardonic humor – but he has to admit – he won’t be able to live in the shabby unhealthy hotel room for much longer. His nephew provides him with an opportunity – a home for retired actors, where there is both medical help and enough independence to make living easy – even more so as the actors perform on their own stage quite regularly.
A perfect solution – and you’ll never guess who ELSE is going to live there so that he won’t be a burden to his daughter and their kids…
It’s a play that celebrates true Vaudeville performances – a joy to watch, sarcastic humor to boot and two brilliant actors to give life to the parts of Willie and Al who were partly created from the jewish duo Smith and Dale (who were best friends in real life) and – for the grouchiness and sarcastic comments – from Edward Gallagher and Al Sheen, who had an on/off turbulent relationship, performing their highly successful signature song “Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Sheen” while having fighting arguments backstage. Again, eight years afterThe Odd Couple had premiered, Neil Simon portraits a dysfunctional, but oddly enough functioning relationship between two crabby men set in their ways not to say what they really mean. It’s a brilliant dance with which they avoid being lonely, and still have a great time, while never having to admit that they enjoy every moment of it. Take actors like DeVito – whose stage presence is amazing – and Richard Griffiths and you have the perfect set up for a great evening in the theatre.
Apropos Theatre: The theatre took a while to grow on me – I usually prefer the velvety kitchy golds and reds kind of theatres and the Savoy is an elegant silver Art Deco place in the basement of the almost too posh Savoy hotel. But once I got over the initial “shock” of a totally different interior I started to like it – very much! And it is definitely gorgeous!
We didn’t do stage door there – we had to get back to the hotel, change clothes and off to the next performance! LOL