Theatre Review: The Odd Couple

Kids are cruel. Especially boys. At least, when I was growing up in the 1960’s. An easy taunt was to discover someone’s middle name, usually something perceived at quirky, and call the boy by that name. ”Oscar” is actually my mild name, which I did not start using until my college years, but that is a different story. In the late 1960’s ”Oscar” was either ”Oscar the Grouch” from Sesame Street or ”Oscar Madison” from Neil Simon’s play (movie/sit com) ”The Odd Couple”

Slur: you live in a trash can, or you’re a crude, slob.

I did not like, nor do I agree, with the moto ”Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me”. I new a name, with the above connotation, could hurt.

Especially, when you are more inclined to be a ”Felix” than an “Oscar”.

Over the years, the duel identity conflict of being named and ”Oscar” but living ”Felix” has come to my attention. Just recently, I thought ”I have never seen the stage version of ’The Odd Couple’. I wonder if anyone else remembers the story or if any theatre performs it.” It seems that revivals of classic American theatre is usually musicals or drama/tragedies. I am more likely to find ”Guy and Dolls” or “Death of a Salesman” somewhere (and if so, love to see them), than I am a classic comedy.

So, last weekend, some friends mentioned that they had gone to see a production of… ”The Odd Couple”… at a small town theatre in Berkeley Springs, WV. Well, that’s within driving distance of where we live, sort of (don’t follow you GPS on the shortest route from here to there unless you like some McAdam’s back roads). And, we did not have set plans for Saturday evening. Off we were in Lake Effect snow flurries for another night of local theatre.

The production was part of the Morgan Arts Council Ice House Theatre Project, which has repurposed an old ice house (many of these exist in this area, for the production, storage and sale of blocks of ice for refrigeration before electricity was a big thing in rural areas; they are basically 3 to 4 story brick/block structures which would be filled with ice to keep the ice frozen; and, now they make for multipurpose community building for performance arts, yoga/dance studies, and artist workshops). The theatre is on the lower level, nestled between the two-foot square support posts and beams.

As is typical in local theatre companies, a core group puts up the production, performing, rehearsing, building sets, sewing costumes and finding prop’s (and if you like what you see, one of the cast members can help you find it at her store down the street). Skimming the program, I see linked family names in multiple roles. Great to have such passion in a community.

Given that the performance space is confined by a square of cider blocks walls and support posts, the tech crews designed Oscar Madison’s apartment with two sides presenting several doors for the apartment entrance, kitchen, two bedrooms and bathroom, and the other walls being two seating area for about 50 audience members each. No one is very far away from sitting in the living room.

Have lived in NYC some yeas back, I have visited friends who lived in similar apartments, which were actually quiet spacious, rather than our vision of tiny studio apartments. Thus, when Oscar makes reference to giving Felix the ”back door” keys, so that he can come and go without intruding on Oscar’s lifestyle, I also know that this was a reference to coming in through the servant’s elevator, which usually brought the hired-help into their live-in bedroom behind the kitchen. The set designers captured this ambiance with precision. And, lets give a hand to the prop’s crew who had the place strewn with chip-bags, beer cans, and poker chips for the first act, then righty-tidy all-cleaned-up for the second act, after Felix came and imposed his sense of order on Oscar.

For those who have forgotten, or never watched ”The Odd Couple” the basic premise is that Oscar Madison (Paul Salinas) lives alone in his 8-room apartment on the 12th floor in NYC, after his wife divorced him for his slovenly ways, and moved to California with his children. He lives a life envied by his married friends, Speed (Fred Herrmann), Murry (Tom Brooks), Roy (Paul M. Williams), and Vinnie (Jim Chittock), who get to be away from home and family on Friday nights in order to play poker at Oscar’s place. Their sixth poker-hand friend is Felix (Chuck Walker), who has not shown up for the game at the beginning of the play. Once Felix arrives, they confirm that his wife has thrown him out for his compulsive neatness.

Thus, the odd couple is the excessively loose Oscar and the excessively controlling Felix. Of course, Oscar takes Felix in, as he has spare rooms. Felix takes over the cleaning and cooking. The rest of the play is their constant conflicts over how they spend their time at the apartment. In the last scene of the second act, Oscar arranges for a double-date with sisters, Gwendolyn Pigeon (Lauren Proffit) and Cecily Pigeon (Jenna Hansroth), who live upstairs in the apartment building. They are all giggles and tears, depending on whether they are flirting with Oscar or comforting Felix.

There is nothing subtle in Neil Simon’s script about how this conflict with play out. What the cast excels at is adding the subtlety to the physical comedy inherent in each of their characters. Felix is a master as facial expressions and controlled, of course, swoons on the couch, as his emotions are the only thing that he can tidy up. Oscar is full of big gestures, usually tossing cards, chips, or cigaret butts around the apartment, by circumstance or with intent to irritate Felix. His kindness is only tempered by his irritated rage. Their poker buddies project their lines with their eyes, slouched postures, betting poker chips, and showing their hands to fold or win the round. Someone even shook up the warm can of beer right on time so that it would spray all over the game table when Oscar cracked it open. This is a frothy production.

I hate to say that you will not get to see this play, as with many local productions, the run was only two weekends. But, hopefully, some theatre near you is resuming live performances. Don your mask, take your vaccination cards, and fill those seats. After a really odd two years of being trapped in our homes and quirky personalities, it good to see characters who are trapped in a 12th floor apartment try to figure out how to be themselves and tolerate each other. Make sure you have a couple of Pigeon Sisters upstairs for a safe escape.

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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5 Responses to Theatre Review: The Odd Couple

  1. cindy knoke says:

    “After a really odd two years of being trapped in our homes and quirky personalities, it good to see characters who are trapped in a 12th floor apartment try to figure out how to be themselves and tolerate each other. Make sure you have a couple of Pigeon Sisters upstairs for a safe escape.”
    Love your thoughts and this review.

  2. Sounds like a fun, lively production. Great you were able to go. I remember the movie as well as the TV series, and I liked them both.

  3. I loved your review! It sounds like they did an amazing job… down to the soda can.
    It makes me want to go in search of such similar productions.
    Good for you for being a patron of the arts!!

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