David Ira Goldstein has a bucket list.
And directing Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys" is on it.
Goldstein can cross that one off the list - Arizona Theatre Company opens the Goldstein-directed comedy in previews Saturday.
"I've always loved this play," Goldstein said during a recent break from rehearsals.
"It's the first of Simon's plays where he has a mix of comedy and pathos, and the balance is just right."
"The Sunshine Boys" first hit Broadway in 1972. George Burns and Walter Matthau starred in the 1975 movie.
The story centers on Al Lewis and Willie Clark. The aging comedians had spent 40 years together working in vaudeville as a team called "Lewis and Clark." That was long ago, and the two have not spoken since. In fact, they didn't speak offstage in the last year of the act.
Clark resented Lewis for breaking up the act. Lewis was tired of the whole scene and wanted out of show business. Beyond that, they seemed to have an active hate for each other.
Many years later, they've been asked to reunite for a television special. Clark's nephew persuades him to do the routine one more time. Trouble is, getting the two together to just rehearse is a struggle.
Lewis and Clark define the word "curmudgeon." And "stubborn."
The play, says Goldstein, is among Simon's best. "It has so much heart and is set in a milieu (vaudeville) that Simon knew so well," he says.
"People who write off Neil Simon will be in for a surprise; it's such a rich play."
On the surface, it seems like a comedy about a couple of old cranks. But it's much more than that, he says.
"It's about aging. It's about forgiveness. It's about family."
The play is 41 years old, but it doesn't show its age, says Goldstein.
"When dealing with a really good play like this, you find the characters have a universality."
He isn't the only one to think this way: Theaters here and in Europe are giving it new life.
It was staged in London last year, and that production, starring Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths, is likely headed for Broadway in the 2013-14 season. The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis mounted a production last year. There have also been recent stagings in big and small cities such as Toronto; Richmond, Va.; and Poulsbo, Wash.
That makes sense, says Goldstein.
"We are so polarized in society these days," he says.
"The time is right for a play about reconciliation."
If you go
• What: Arizona Theatre Company's production of Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys."
• Director: David Ira Goldstein.
• When: Previews are 8 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through next Thursday. Opening is 7:30 p.m. March 8. Continues through March 23.
• Where: Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.
• Cost: $35-$89.
• Reservations/information: 622-2823.
• Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, including one intermission.
• Cast: David Green, Jon Lutyens, Lille Richardson, Bob Sorenson, Caitlin Stegemoller and Peter Van Norden.
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4128.