Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch blow into a downtown steakhouse like a comedy hurricane.
They've arrived straight from rehearsal for their upcoming show, "The Sunshine Boys," at the Ahmanson Theatre, and the tone of their entrance shtick owes something to the rapid-fire joking favored by the vaudeville comedians they play in the show.
Hirsch is tall and thin with a full head of mussed salt-and-pepper hair. DeVito is short and round and sports a Friar Tuck-like ring of longish white hair. The pair bait each other like a modern-day Laurel and Hardy. No personal space is observed as they fumble around the table, gesticulating wildly and regarding each other with mischievous smirks.
"I usually sit on Danny's lap," says Hirsch as he misses his seat and almost crashes into DeVito's shiny bald crown. Then he puts a straw on his head.
"Is that a straw?" DeVito asks, cocking his head and adjusting his thick black-framed glasses on the bridge of his nose.
"I thought it was a look stick," Hirsch says, squinting at DeVito through one end as if he is peering through a telescope.
Their appearance in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys" isn't the first time they've been onstage together, but it's been quite awhile — and it happened long before their five-year run on "Taxi" began in 1978.
The show was a critical hit. The Telegraph's Charles Spencer wrote "Thea Sharrock directs a pitch-perfect production that beautifully captures fleeting moments of tenderness in the comedy without ever turning mushy... This is a golden evening that finds the West End at the top of its game."
After Griffiths' death in March, DeVito wasn't sure if the show could go on for the already announced dates at the Ahmanson. He was over the moon when he reached out to Hirsch and found that he was available.
"I really wanted to do the play, but it had to be with the right person," DeVito says sipping a glass of Pinot Grigio. "And Judd and I have this wonderful mutual admiration society thing going on."
Their bond adds a layer of context to "The Sunshine Boys," which was first produced on Broadway in 1972 and has been adapted multiple times for stage, film and television. (Jack Albertson and Sam Levene were the original Sunshine Boys; Walter Matthau and George Burns starred in the 1975 movie.)
In the play, a popular vaudeville team known as Lewis and Clark is asked to reunite for a television special on the history of comedy, but over the decades that they worked together, they grew to hate each other.
DeVito and Hirsch claim that they've never had a fight in real life, but for the play they have found ways of looking like they hate each other. The two say that they are constantly working to surprise each other during rehearsals with unexpected reactions and novel ways of delivering their lines.
Up to a point. "If we ever got into the idea of topping each other, it'd be goodbye play," says Hirsch, emphasizing the importance of the cast's ensemble work. The play also includes Justin Bartha, Annie Abrams, Matthew Bohrer, Gibby Brand, Johnnie Fiori, Frank Kopyc, Benjamin Burdick and PaSean Wilson.
The two also believe synchronicity is at work in the old friends' present-day pairing.
"The characters in the play haven't seen each other in 11 years, and we haven't worked together in 11 years," says DeVito as Hirsch pipes in that the cab company on "Taxi," the ABC sitcom they starred in together from 1978 to '83, was called Sunshine Cab Co.