Let's Hear It For the Boys: Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch Star in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys

By Evan Henerson
30 Sep 2013

Danny DeVito
Photo by Craig Schwartz

"That was a tough one," said DeVito. "We also felt that if we were sitting there looking at Richard he'd be the first to say, ‘Get it up there and bring it in front of other audiences.' He was a spirited and wonderful man. So he's with us, and we're going to make him proud."

Sharrock, who had directed Griffiths more than seven times, concurred.

"There was a moment of reflection where we had to see what was right," added Sharrock, who in her program tribute said that The Sunshine Boys was conceived to be Griffiths' last stage appearance. "In the end, we felt very strongly that if we got the right person to take his place for the right reason, then I know Richard would have wanted us to do it."

The right person proved to be an old stage hand and both a friend and on-screen adversary of Devito's: Hirsch, the two time Tony Award-winning star of Conversations with My Father and I'm Not Rappaport. In fact the two men had intersected even pre-"Taxi" with DeVito filming a guest spot on Hirsch's series "Delvecchio." The push-pull continued for five seasons with Alex's good-guy cabbie Alex Reiger routinely clashing with DeVito's slimeball dispatcher Louis De Parma. Both actors won Emmys for their roles.

Going back even further, Hirsch and DeVito shared the stage in 1970 at the Philadelphia Center for the Living Arts in a production of Rosalynd Drexler's The Line of Least Existence with Hirsch as a psychiatrist and DeVito as a dog having an affair with the doctor's wife.

"There were songs in it like, ‘I'm no mutt in a rut,'" said DeVito. "It was a kind of crazy play, but we had a ball doing it."

DeVito will be 68 when the production opens; Hirsch 78. This time around, the cast is entirely American. Sharrock and DeVito both note that switching Hirsch for Griffiths changes the dynamic of The Sunshine Boys, albeit not to the play's detriment.

"Judd and Richard? Wow. I guess I'd say they're pretty different," said Sharrock. "But of course between the two of them, they're both so experienced and so collaborative. Neither of them would come in here thinking they have everything all mapped out."

And as amusing as those photos of a pajama-clad DeVito may seem, Simon's play — for all its great one-lines and built-in vaudeville routines — is also a drama about a couple of long past their prime. These elder statesmen are starring down their third act — professionally and in life — and not particularly admiring the view. Willie Clark thinks he still has it. Al Lewis knows better, and their reunion will be anything but joyous.

Remember that finger that drives Willie over the edge? That might just be Simon poking away at his audience's discomfort over issues of mortality.

"Audiences are gonna realize it when they see the play," said DeVito. "It's got a poignancy and a tenderness with realizing there's that moment in time when you just can't do it anymore. The reality of the situation is that time is passing and you're getting older. There are certain things to be aware of, but you don't have to surrender in order to be aware of them."

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Judd Hirsch and Danny DeVito
Photo by Craig Schwartz

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