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Local actors take the stage

Mugging for the camera while rehearsing a scene from the "Sunshine Boys" are Ernie Rall (left) and Leo Anderson. They are the two Bemidji actors on stage now at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. PATT RALL | BEMIDJI PIONEER

BEMIDJI - For those who remember the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights, the current offering at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse will bring back many good memories.

Sullivan's show was reminiscent of the old style vaudeville/burlesque shows because it showcased plate twirlers, comedy acts and acrobats no longer seen in local theaters.

"The Sunshine Boys" by Neil Simon tells the story of two old vaudevillians whose last gig was on the Ed Sullivan show and which did not go as well as it had for the previous 43 years.

In the play, CBS television is producing the "History of Comedy" and the stage manager for the show is Leo Anderson from Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.

"I saw the ad for auditions on Paul Bunyan TV and thought it looked like fun, a little scary and a challenge," Anderson said. "I never knew how much work goes into a play right up until opening night."

This is Anderson's first time on stage anywhere. He is complimentary of his fellow actors because they are so supportive of him.

"They are fantastic - it's an amazing play," Anderson said. "The actors have been there for me and very friendly."

Another one of the players from Bemidji is Ernie Rall, who has been on and off the stage at the historic Chief Theater a few times.

"This is the third artistic director that I have worked with at the Playhouse," said Rall. "They have all had a different style of rehearsing and directing. The thing that strikes me about Terry Lynn is that he's deeply involved with all aspects of the productions."

The lighting director, Paul Upton, is also glad to be back at the Playhouse after 18 years. He designed lighting when Mike Kissin was the artistic director.

"There have been substantial upgrades to the lighting system since I last worked here," Upton said. "I am hoping that people notice my funny touches in Willie Clark's hotel room."

Here's a hint: Notice the light fixtures on the wall over the trunk and the hallway light.

Upton will be going to the Twin Cities right after the show goes up to design lighting for "The Sunshine Boys" at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

The main characters are played by two actors who have known each other for years. Willie Clark's grouchy exterior drives his agent nephew to distraction and his old partner, Al Lewis, to confusion in trying to remember old names and faces.

Steve Shaffer (Willie) and Fred Wagner (Al) feel that this production is easily Broadway quality for the actors.

"You gotta believe that you're the best person for the part," Wagner said. "I play Al Lewis as a more formidable personality than say, George Burns in the movie."

"We're friends," said Shaffer. "It's easy for us. We hang out together and our wives like each other."

The two men portray a friendship that has lasted 43 years through thick and thin, not speaking to each other for the last 11 years and then talking as if they had just tea together the day before when they meet to rehearse their scene for the CBS special.

This comedy will be food for thought and conversation among the different generations of theater goers at the PBP. It is appropriate for high school and above for some double-entendre and visual jokes and mild language.