Review by Doug Iden –
It is marvelous to see live theatrical performances in front of a live audience. And, it’s equally marvelous to see a good production of Neil Simon’s masterpiece comedy The Odd Couple which is currently playing at the Covedale Theater.
Because of a recent and pending divorce plus lack of funds, neatnik Felix Unger (Eric Kilpatrick in his CLP debut) and shlumpy pal Oscar Madison (Jeremiah Plessinger) are forced to live together. The adage is that opposites attract – but can they co-habitat in peace? If this were just a duel of pithy repartee between venal combatants, this show would not work. But, at its heart, Simon has crafted a story of compassionate friendship veiled by offhand, comic quips. The surface irritation each feels for the other due to polar opposite behaviors hides a deep-seeded affection which Kilpatrick and Plessinger display beautifully.
The play opens with the every-Friday night poker buddies Vinny (John Dorney), Murray the Cop (Jeff Hartman), Speed (Matt Lovell), Roy (Donald Volpenhein) and Oscar sitting around the table bantering and wondering why Felix isn’t there. This is a comfortable group of old friends who, increasingly, become concerned about Felix’s absence. When Felix’s wife calls and tells Oscar that they have split and she doesn’t know where Felix is, Oscar’s concern goes into overdrive. Feliz finally shows up and is in the dumps. In their own way, each of the friends tries to console Felix and Oscar offers to allow Felix to stay in his large NY apartment for a while. Soon, Felix’s compulsive cleanliness and Oscar’s slovenliness clash. Neil Simon’s brilliant dialogue propels the story and keeps the audience laughing.
In an attempt to mend their personal difficulties and to distract Felix from his obsessive feelings about his estranged wife, Oscar arranges a double date with two English sisters living in the flat above. At first, the introduction between Felix and Gwendolyn (Lesley Taylor) and Cecily (Kate Stark) is very awkward with Felix talking incessantly about his wife and children. However, instead of being put off by Felix’s maudlin attitude, the women are attracted to his sensitivity and commiserate with his situation which further infuriates Oscar. This is a key scene in the play because it allows Felix to transition from feeling sorry for himself to become a character ready to start a new life. The women make the scene believable.
All of the performances are excellent led by Director Greg Procaccino. Simon’s dialogue is so witty and presented in a staccato fashion that it can be a challenge to present the material without talking over other actors. This was not an issue although one of the poker buddies was a little difficult to understand which could have been the miking or unclear elucidation.
Brett Bowling’s usual excellence is displayed in the detailed set design which takes place solely in Oscar’s apartment. Initially, we see a spacious room with serviceable but somewhat dilapidated poker table and chairs and a sofa. We can see part of the kitchen, a corridor leading to the rest of the apartment and a bathroom door. The space is a mess with clothes strewn everywhere, indicative of Oscar’s sloppiness. Oscar is a sports reporter and we see a lot of sports memorabilia including trophies, pennants and a small basketball hoop. Initially, we also see Christmas decorations indicating the time of the year. As the play progresses, there are ongoing indications in the set that time has progressed. One of the clever highlights of the show is watching the Poker Buddies change the set between scenes, each one still in character and clearly enjoying themselves. Normally, you do not see change-of-scene cavorting by the cast but it added a lot to the show and allowed the actors to do more in, what is essentially, a two person play.
So, grab your poker chips and either wear your neatest or your most slovenly duds and march down to the Covedale theater through October 10.
Their next production is the jukebox musical All Shook Up featuring the music of Elvis Presley running from October 21 through November 14. Tickets to all of Covedale‘s shows can be purchased HERE
Doug Iden is an avid, lifelong theater fan with an extensive collection of original cast albums. He also teaches classes on musical theater at OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).