During a time in which divorces are almost as commonplace as iPhones or Priuses, who says relationships can’t last? Neil Simon’s timeless ode to friendship, “The Odd Couple,” is more than 40 years old (young?) and has not lost one ounce of its comedic luster.
During a time in which divorces are almost as commonplace as iPhones or Priuses, who says relationships can’t last?
Neil Simon’s timeless ode to friendship, “The Odd Couple,” is more than 40 years old (young?) and has not lost one ounce of its comedic luster.
While love and marriage most certainly do not go together like horse and carriage in Simon’s stage adaptation, friendships and loyalty remain intact. Audiences have certainly maintained its love affair with mismatched duo Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, as evidenced by wildly successful runs on stage (Oscar and Felix portrayed by classic comedic tandem Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon), screen (Matthau and Lemon again) and television (the ’70s show starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall).
MMAS’s production, running through Nov. 8, successfully captures most of the nuances and off-beat humor that has made Simon’s play a hit.
Unfolding over three acts, we learn about Oscar Madison (portrayed by Bill Roberts), a lazy, slovenly, ultimately lonely sportswriter whose apartment and life are in shambles. In the opening scene, an unkempt living room – part of an elaborate set design by Gary Poholek — symbolizes a life in disarray: empty beer cans and Chinese food containers, dirty clothes, bottles of alcohol and ashtrays are carelessly strewn about.
Oscar is divorced and late on his alimony payments to his ex. While he is certainly fun-loving and easygoing, he lacks any semblance of personal accountability. He enjoys spending evenings at his place playing poker and schmoozing with several friends, one of whom is a mysterious no-show one evening.
Enter Felix Unger (played by Kevin Mischley), whom some would characterize as a noodnik. He’s a CBS news writer as well as an uptight, neurotic neat freak. He has also just separated from his wife of 12 years – with whom he has two children – and is bordering upon suicidal from the moment we lay eyes upon him (during a riotously funny scene in which his poker friends mistakenly believe he is attempting to hang himself in Oscar’s bathroom). Ironically, it is Oscar, of all people, who offers to help Felix begin coping with his divorce by inviting him to move in. Little does Oscar realize what a life-altering experience he is in for.
Being an avid fan of both the hit movie and series presents its own challenges when attempting to critique this production on its own merit without making comparisons. The television series, after all, played out over a prolonged period of time, while the play’s chronology unfolds over two weeks. It is, however, fair to assess whether Roberts and Mischley develop and maintain the level of comedic chemistry of their predecessors, albeit with variances in the portrayal of their characters.
Roberts, so memorable in prior roles including “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “42nd Street,” delivers a respectable performance as Oscar. While he lacked the drab grouchiness of Matthau and Klugman, Roberts nailed the character’s wisecracking, sarcastic side. More importantly, he was able to unveil beneath Oscar’s stubborn, hardened shell of a man a loveable lug hoping to change his life for the better.
Mischley, so unforgettably good in previous roles including “42nd Street” and “Anything Goes,” perfectly captures all of the eccentricities that were so well portrayed in the past by both Lemon and Randall. Historically, Mischley’s over-the-top performances played perfectly into the musicals in which he was cast. Any initials concerns of excess zaniness transforming into mere caricature in his first non-musical production were immediately alleviated.
Mischley balances the role with just the right blend of comedy and seriousness. His character has been afraid of living life on his own terms, while always conforming to the expectations of others. Everything — from sofas to London broil — needs to be perfect, since his personal life is far from it. Mischley, however, adds levity to the role by portraying Felix as a severely compulsive man with irritating habits.
I could not fathom how Mischley did not once break from character by cracking a smile as Felix suffered from one of his nagging neck spasms, allergy-induced ear-clogging fits, or bouts of nausea while attempting to converse with the opposite sex. Mischley makes the impossible possibly by making Felix’s internal and external pains painfully funny.
The supporting cast does not wither under the weight of its two leads. Most notably, David Butler (of Mansfield) as poker buddy Speed, along with both Michelle Monti and MColleen Johnson as the Pigeon sisters (an English pair with whom Oscar hilariously attempts to set Felix and himself up on a double date) perform admirably. Monti and Johnson, in particular, seem to relish their scenes with Roberts and Mischley, which are filled with several sexual double entendres.
Ultimately, amidst all of Oscar and Felix’s bickering, Simon’s play emphasizes the bonds of friendship, forgiveness, overcoming obstacles and moving on to create a better life. Director Neil Colvin’s production and stellar cast are able to fully flesh out these themes.
Oscar and Felix may be two writers who may not be able to script their respective personal lives, but together, these two bachelors make for a great storyline and prove that opposites do in fact attract. How oddly appealing.
The MMAS Black Box Theater at 377 North Main St. in Mansfield, presents Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” through Nov. 8. Tickets are $20, $19 for seniors, and $18 for students under 18 years old. MMAS also offers one price Thursday night performance where all tickets are just $18. Call 508-339-2822 or visit www.mmmas.org for more information.
Mansfield resident Paul Kaufman is a healthcare professional. He is a husband and father and writes a restaurant review blog at www.paulspalate.blogspot.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.