Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Odd Couple at Lakewood Playhouse

Oddly familiar
by Michael Dresdner

   L to R: Chris Cantrell (Oscar), Jim Rogers (Felix)                             photos by Kate Paterno-Lick

The classic comedy The Odd Couple is one of Neil Simon’s funniest and well-loved plays. Lakewood Playhouse, through the efforts of a skilled director and polished cast, presents a solid, entertaining production of this theatre standby.

Though the basic story is widely known, in part because of the incredibly popular early 70s television series it spawned, I’ll give you a quick rundown. What is unusual about the play (as opposed to the TV series) is that it loops on itself; it ends up almost exactly where it started. Along the way it takes what amounts to a short detour into a more-or-less disastrous experiment in combined habitation.

Oscar is the quintessential divorced slob who hosts the weekly buddies’ poker game in his trash-strewn NYC apartment. When one player, his old pal Felix, shows up late and depressed after being tossed out by his wife, Oscar invites him to live there. Felix is Oscar’s polar opposite; organized, fastidious, thrifty, and at least around women, rather timid. It’s tough blend, and it ultimately crashes after Oscar invites their British-born neighbors, the Pigeon sisters, down for a double date that goes horribly, but hilariously, wrong.

Ultimately, Felix and Oscar dissolve the living arrangement, but manage to keep their friendship intact. The upshot is that Felix learns to loosen up a bit, and Oscar learns to clean up a bit. Through it all, even during their contentious arguments, the lines come fast and funny.

   L to R: Joseph Grant (Roy), Jim Rogers (Felix), Gabriel McClelland (Speed)

Director Steve Tarry has assembled a fine cast of very experienced actors who work together well and know how to deliver comedy. Chris Cantrell is the cocksure, blustery, Oscar to Jim Rogers’ surprisingly likeable Felix. The card playing buddies include Murray the plodding cop (Jed Slaughter), the impatient Speed (Gabriel McClelland), Oscar’s curmudgeonly accountant Roy (Joseph Grant), and Martin Goldsmith as the meek, slightly henpecked, gentle Vinnie. The Pigeon sisters are the well-paired duo of  Kadi Burt as Cecily and Palmer Scheutzow as Gwendolyn . (Yes, you are correct; Cecily and Gwendolyn are the names of the two young women in The Importance of Being Earnest.)

It’s not without its quirks. Cantrell’s accent was, from the view of this expatriate New Yorker, a bit odd, as was the intentional gape-mouth facial expression of Slaughter, since his lines are not those of a dullard at all. Still, these are surely director’s or actor’s calls, and reflect personal style rather than any important substance.

The pacing starts a bit slow in act one, no doubt intentionally in order to express the “same old, nothing ever changes here” feeling of the weekly card game, but picks up decidedly during the more contentious and flirtatious act two.

Pay special attention to the stage hands who come out in a very clever and funny costumes in the act one scene change, and keep an eye on them in the act two scene change as well when they “clear” the dining table. Rarely do you see a scene change that’s as entertaining as the show, but both these are.

Costumes, simple 70s period clothing, was ably done by Cyndi Hjembo, lighting by Daniel Cole, and sound (including lots of period light jazz) was by John Burton. The set (actually designed by John Munn) along with its painting, props, and set dressing was fleshed out by Larry Hagerman, Carrie Foster, Jeffery Weaver, and Hally Phillips.  

I know you are familiar with this play, and I know this is not going to present any new story lines or plot twists, but it remains a very enjoyable light comedy. With each new cast it becomes a new entertainment, and that’s certainly a strong reason to keep going to see it.

The Odd Couple
April 18 to May 11, 2014
Lakewood Playhouse

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