Jerry Adler and Richard Kline star in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre Nutmeg Summer Series production of Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys,” a comedy about the reunion of a one-time vaudeville team for a television special. The CRT production, which runs from June 19 to June 29, is directed by Vincent Cardinal, head of the dramatic arts department and artistic director of CRT.
Adler and Kline are actors whose faces are familiar to millions from their work in television, and who also have had extensive careers as award-winning directors for television and the stage. Adler is best known for his role as Herman “Hesh” Rabkin on HBO’s “The Sopranos” and more recently as Howard Lyman on the CBS drama “The Good Wife.” Kline is remembered as Larry on the classic situation comedy, “Three’s Company.”
Both also teach acting, with Kline operating the Richard Kline Acting Workshop in New York City and Adler, who received an honorary degree from UConn in 2013, serving as an adjunct professor in the School of Fine Arts, where this past year he taught a class in comedy. They spoke with UConn Today before a rehearsal for the play.
Q: It’s often said by actors that comedy is harder to do than drama.
JERRY ADLER: It’s only harder because of the timing. Timing is what’s important in comedy.
RICHARD KLINE: I tell my students there’s a certain rhythm, music to comedy. If it’s not honored, then the jokes fall flat or the laughs don’t come; especially with Neil Simon. This is maybe my seventh show with Neil Simon. He’s been criticized for his one-liners, or his jokey presentations. But he came from writing for Sid Caesar – he was a joke writer with Woody Allen and those guys. The challenge is you have to honor the jokes but still be real and be characters and have real situations on stage.
JA: That’s what’s difficult; to still be real and honor the timing element of the comedy. With Doc [Simon], every other line is a joke line. You have to be very careful. It’s difficult to time. Right now we’re not sure where all the laughs are. It’s difficult to time it out. Once we get rolling, we’ll know where the laughs are and [we’ll] work towards that.
Q: Often actors talk about that difficulty with timing when you have so much going on in a comedy script.
RK: This show presents a special challenge because within the play is a vaudeville sketch. That’s a whole different venue and a whole different way of presenting the material. It’s very one-dimensional.
JA: We’re actors playing actors in that sketch.
Q: Do you have to make a mental adjustment at that point?
RK: A mental and a physical adjustment.
JA: You’re leaving the character that you played in the first act and become somebody else in the second act. It’s very difficult.
Q: With your backgrounds as director, how do you then follow the show’s director in staying on track?
JA: We’ve been honoring Vince Cardinal, who has been directing us beautifully. He is allowing us to maintain ourselves.
RK: He’s been working with two directors, so basically his job is to turn the lights on … I’m just kidding. He’s giving us free rein, but I think he’s blocked the show beautifully. It’s nice to have a third eye and a guy who’s had as much experience as Vince to check in with.
Q: Working with a show that is fairly well known for a long time, what’s the challenge for you to make the character your own and bring what you can to the character?
JA: You have to forget all of that and go for the truth of the character. You can’t incorporate what you think the audience believes, or remembers, or is waiting for. You have to play the character.
RK: We’re not mimics. We’re trying to create living, breathing characters. At the same time, we’re trying to land the jokes.
Q: What are your thoughts about the role and career of someone who is primarily a character actor and can continually get roles?
JA: I find myself being typecast in Jewish roles. I’m lucky enough to get the ones that work. My experience is that there is a small keyhole of parts that I can play. That’s why it’s fortunate that I can find a part like this that I can play at my age.
RK: I never thought of myself as a character man until I got older, when my hair turned gray, and then I started playing judges and lawyers. I always thought of myself as the second banana, never as the lead guy. But I enjoy the diversity. Then there’s the musical comedy thing, which I love doing. I played the role of the Wizard in the national company of “Wicked.” I tell my students if you possibly can, take singing and dancing lessons because if you’re a triple threat, you’ll be available for more work.
“The Sunshine Boys” will be performed from June 19 to June 29 at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre. Evening performances for the CRT Nutmeg Summer Series start at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Matinee performances start at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. In conjunction with the “STAGECRAFT: 50 Years of Design at Hartford Stage” exhibition at The William Benton Museum of Art, patrons can save $5 on a ticket for the Nutmeg Summer Series by using the offer code “BENTON” when ordering a regular price ticket. For more information, visit www.crt.uconn.edu.