Tuesday, July 16, 2019

After 25 Years, HART Can Still Light Up the Sky

Karen Huckfeldt, Tyler Hulegaard, Kira Smolev, Les Ico, Kathleen Silloway

By Tina Arth

Hillsboro Artists’ Regional Theatre is kicking off its 25th season in grand style, reprising the very first show ever produced at HART. Light Up the Sky, written by the aptly named playwright Moss Hart, made its New York debut in 1948. The play never attained the critical acclaim of Hart’s collaborations with George S. Kaufman (in particular, The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can’t Take It with You), but nonetheless it is terribly funny and offers a fascinating perspective on the relationships of playwrights, actors, and producers. Director Mark Putnam, his cast, and production team deliver nicely on the show’s comedic promise, and despite the show’s length (it’s written in three acts) the pacing is snappy enough that the show rarely lags.

The entire story takes place over fewer than 12 hours in actress Irene Livingston’s suite at the Boston Ritz-Carlton Hotel. It’s opening night of a new play by novice playwright Peter Sloan, and both excitement and tension are running high. Irene’s ghostwriter, Miss Lowell, is working on a manuscript but is constantly interrupted by the comings and goings of Irene’s mother, the young playwright, the play’s principal backers, an older playwright, the director, Irene and her husband, and ultimately some very boisterous Shriners. Act I takes us through the pre-show anticipation of a huge hit, as everyone enjoys a celebratory pre-show drink, while Act II shows the principals gradually straggling in after the play, convinced that it was a disaster – the backers are beyond irate, the director is wrapped up in his latest melodramatic hissy-fit, and the discouraged young playwright is headed back to life as a truck-driver. The only truly content person in the room is Irene’s husband, Tyler – unable to stand the tension of opening night, he had gone to see Oklahoma instead. Act III shows the same group several hours later, as the reviews start to come in and attitudes are buffeted by the opinions of the critics.

Les Ico and Kira Smolev (as the show’s backers, Sidney and Frances Black) are consistent comic standouts. Although they are way out of their artistic and intellectual element, their joint $300,000 investment has bought them them a ringside seat at the table. Sidney is a street smart New York hustler whose exceptional luck has earned a bundle, and Frances earned every penny of her half working as a professional figure skater. Smolev’s New York accent and attitude are in perfect harmony – tough, vulgar, and loud but thoroughly charming. Ico is hilarious as he plays the big man among the arty set – he has no idea what the play is about, but thinks that’s OK since he’s told it’s an allegory – and his lightning-fast mood changes are in perfect accord with the script’s twists and turns.

Kathleen Silloway plays Irene’s mother Stella with sardonic flair – wonderfully disaffected and grounded, she isn’t buying any of the hype about her famous daughter, the play, or the director. Her pairing with Frances (over an endless gin game) produces essential elements of the background story without even a hint of overt exposition. Dwayne Thurnau creates a quirky, often befuddled, and thoroughly sympathetic character as Irene’s latest husband Tyler, inexplicably content to be Irene’s doormat. Kudos also to Karen Huckfeldt for her utterly self-obsessed Irene – she exemplifies everything we love to hate about a drama queen. Steve Horton delivers a superb cameo as Shriner William Gallagher, and undoubtedly gets the most laughs/minute of stage time.

David Bliss’ set is a thing of beauty, elegant and detailed enough to create the ambience of the Ritz-Carlton. The elegance is mirrored in the costumes by Kelcey Weaver and Kira Smolev – in particular, the women’s dresses look like authentic period pieces that unmistakably express the spirit of late forties East Coast style. The whole show is clearly a group effort, and director Putnam has done a nice job of assembling and coaching his team to kick off HART’s silver anniversary year.

Light Up the Sky  is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through Sunday, July 28th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Much Ado About Nothing – Really Something!

Diana Trotter (Leonato), Christian Mitchell (Hero), Phillip J. Berns (Bertram), and
Mandana Khoshnevisan (Margaret) in 'Much Ado About Nothing' at Bag&Baggage Productions
Photo by Casey Campbell

By Tina Arth

I am delighted to report that Scott Palmer’s departure from Bag&Baggage seems to have had no impact on the company’s willingness to embrace extraordinary adaptations of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays.  The current production of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by B&B Artistic Director Cassie Greer, is sufficiently outlandish to thoroughly alienate Shakespearean purists – and that’s OK. Gordon Barr’s adaptation of the classic comedy may initially disorient the audience with its gender-bending fluidity (I was certainly floundering at the beginning). However, the free-wheeling disruption of the original tale’s gender assignments not only serves an important purpose, but it leaves the bones of the story intact and, at least in Greer’s production, makes it much funnier than a canonical presentation of the play.

In a conventional production, the story revolves around two complex courtships - Claudio and Hero, and Benedick and Beatrice. The first obvious change is that Barr’s adaptation substitutes Bertram for Beatrice, making one of the two couples gay.  However, it doesn’t stop there – Hero is played by a man who wears women’s clothing, while Claudio is played by a woman who wears men’s clothing. Hero’s father (mother?) Leonato is played by a woman, and two characters (Margaret and Ursula) also play male characters (Dogberry and Verges). There’s more – but long before I figured out who was playing what gender, and when, I figured out what really mattered – which is that it just doesn’t matter. The intrigue, loyalty, deception, love and lust at the core of Much Ado are all hard-wired into the human condition independent of which pronouns we adopt for ourselves – in fact, in the cast bios one can find “he/him,” “she/her,” “they/them,” “thy/thine,” and, for good measure,  one “he/him/they/them.”

The stage is simply littered with exceptional performances (and bocce balls), with some of the most outlandish and carefully crafted physical comedy I’ve seen anywhere. Norman Wilson (“Benedick”) and Phillip J. Berns (“Bertram”) are spectacularly campy throughout, but most memorable during their hilarious attempts at concealment (Wilson’s patio chaise lurk and Berns’ umbrella-roll are tied for funniest moments, despite stiff competition). As Margaret, Mandana Khoshnevisan pulls off some truly unbelievable dance moves, and she brings a muddled intensity to her Dogberry that leaves the audience in stitches.

Peter Schuyler creates a marvelously drunken Borachio, and he outdoes himself as Friar, wafting about the stage like a giant white spring moth, while Justin Charles’ affect and attire as Ursula make a comparatively minor role truly unforgettable.  Speaking of unforgettable – where else will you ever see/hear “Hooked on a Feeling” performed by a cast kazoo chorus?

Greer’s vision for the show demands costumes as imaginative and uninhibited as her actors, and costume designer Melissa Heller is, as always, up to the challenge. Tyler Buswell’s set provides a stunning and timeless visual backdrop, rooted in medieval Sicily but accommodating lighting and a host of other technical effects that liberate the show from any specific time, place, or relationship to reality.

All of these touches could easily descend into 3 Stooges level chaos, but the B&B cast and production team somehow present, instead, an intelligible and accessible comedy that preserves Shakespeare’s original themes while adding (without overt didacticism) an essential message about the role of gender norms in 2019.  With this show, Greer makes it clear that she is not just keeping Scott Palmer’s fire burning, she is fanning the flames with her own passion.

Bag&Baggage’s Much Ado About Nothing is playing at The Vault, 350 E. Main Street, Hillsboro, through July 28th, with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday matinees.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Down the Rabbit Hole with Mask & Mirror

Patti Speight, Yelena King, Kelsey Ion (bottom) and Ryan Clifford, Grant Burton (top).Picture by Nicole Mae Photography

By Tina Arth

Buy now, read later. In seven years of reviewing for Westside Theatre Reviews, covering almost 300 shows, I have offered this advice only once before, but Mask & Mirror’s “Unmasked” production of playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning Rabbit Hole demands no less. The show is brilliantly written, directed, and acted – truly a must-see. However, the venue (Tualatin Heritage Center) is small, the $10 price a real bargain, and with only a two-week run there’s no time for hesitation – definitely buy tickets in advance if possible, since just showing up at the door may be risky.

Got your tickets? Good. Now you can read further:

Rabbit Hole has only five characters, each a dream role for serious actors. There’s Becca and Howie, grieving parents who have lost their 4-year-old son to a tragic traffic accident. There’s Becca’s exuberantly immature younger sister Izzy, who offers little solace to her sister as she grapples with her own issues. There’s Izzy and Becca’s mom, Nat, who drinks a bit too much and is still coping with the death of her son 11 years earlier.  Finally, there’s Jason, the awkward and traumatized 17-year-old who was driving the car that hit young Danny; eight months later, he is still trying to come to grips with his sense of guilt and desperately seeking acceptance and recognition of his contrition. Rather than drawing together in adversity, each family member is isolated on a separate, lonely path to cope with the pain; it is only by finding their way back to each other that they begin to develop strategies for healing and moving forward.  Despite the play’s dark foundations, ample humor breaks the tension, allowing the audience to fully engage with each character’s arc.

Yelena King’s “Becca” is heartbreakingly believable – brittle, rigidly controlled, judgmental, yet silently radiating grief that is consuming her.  King’s precise delivery of a series of micro-aggressions against her sister, husband, and mother builds organically toward the confrontations that finally allow her release. Ryan Clifford’s “Howie” is a fine match – with all of the chemistry flowing from him toward his emotionally absent mate, Clifford finds a lovely balance between compassion, frustration, and attempts to address his own needs.

Kelsey Ion (as Izzy) bursts onto the scene like a lit firecracker, and her initially outlandish behavior captures the essence of the younger sister who can never match the achievements of a “perfect” sibling. Watching her organically develop into her own version of adulthood is a treat, and Ion’s effervescent take on maturity is as much a show highlight as her earlier flamboyance.  Speaking of unusual versions of adulthood, Patti Speight is a hoot, providing a hefty dose of comic relief as the oddly disconnected Nat. More than any other character, Nat’s behavior seems completely out of touch with social norms – her rambling thesis about the Kennedy Curse is a gem, and Speight walks the fine line between tragicomedy and parody with aplomb.

I’ve saved for last an actor with the least stage time, but whose impact is gut-wrenchingly beautiful. 19-year-old Grant Burton (as Jason) creates an unforgettable character – and he gives the role a child-like sincerity and awkwardness that allows the audience (and Becca) to imagine Danny, both as he was and who he might have become. From his first appearance I was rooting for him to break through Becca’s veneer, and watching him succeed gives the whole show a unique and moving focus beyond the tragedy of a child’s death.

Sets are, as expected in the Heritage Center, minimal, but the use of the aisle and apron bring the entire show within touching distance of the audience and creates an intimacy that encapsulates the audience within the drama. A special note, something I rarely notice – Assistant Director Caitriona Johnston also gets credit in the program for hair. The evolution of Becca’s and Izzy’s coiffures through the show perfectly expresses the changes in their psyches as the story develops, and their hairdos silently reflect the two women’s movement from impossibly uptight and pathetically immature opposites toward gentle rapprochement.

By the time this review is posted, there may be only one week left for Rabbit Hole. Director Joe Silva and his superb cast deserve only full houses, and audiences will not find a better way to spend a few hours of their lives.

Mask & Mirror’s production of Rabbit Hole runs through Sunday, July 21 at the Tualatin Heritage Center, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:30.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Experience Experience’s The Comedy of Errors

Steven Grawrick, Ty Hendrix, Bobbi Kaye Kupfern, and Neil
Wade Freer. Photo by Casey Campbell photography.

By Tina Arth

Scarred by too many dry-as-dust high school and college assignments in the distant past, I am still always a little surprised when I really enjoy one of Shakespeare’s plays. The secret, of course, is that these works were meant to be performed live, not read as literature – especially the comedies. Experience Theatre Project’s take on The Comedy of Errors is a perfect example – adjectives like “rollicking,” and “zany” don’t begin to do justice to the shamelessly broad physical comedy that director Brenda Hubbard draws from a thoroughly uninhibited cast that fully commits to the Bard’s shortest (and arguably silliest) comedy. It’s being performed in a series of outdoor venues (I saw it opening weekend at Beaverton’s Westside Shakespeare Festival; the rest will be at local wineries), and the production will change slightly to adjust to the layout of each location.

A quick if incomplete synopsis clearly makes the argument for the “silliest comedy” title. Start with two sets of identical twins born in Syracuse and separated at birth – one set the sons of the merchant Egeon and his wife Emilia, the other set poor boys purchased as slaves for their sons. The parents have inexplicably given the same name to each twin, so Dromio and Dromio are slaves to Antipholus and Antipholus. A disastrous tempest at sea separates them, leaving one set (Antipholus and Dromio) with Egeon in Syracuse, while the other two boys (Antipholus and Dromio) end up in Ephesus with Emilia. Now grown, Antipholus (of Syracuse) ventures out with Dromio in search of his brother. When they do not return, Egeon sets out to find them, landing in Ephesus – and the play actually begins with Egeon relating this tale of woe to Solinus, Duke of Ephesus.  This ideal setup for mistaken identities is complemented by the puzzling coincidence that both Antipholuses (Antipholi?) and both Dromios wear identical clothing. With both sets of twins unknowingly in the same city, identically clad and with the same names, the stage is set for two acts of outrageous mistaken identity, including Antipholus (of Syracuse) dining with Adriana, Antipholus (of Ephesus’) wife , while flirting outrageously with Luciana, Adriana’s sister (one wonders how Shakespeare resisted the urge to make the women twins, both named Adriana!). Adriana’s lusty kitchen wench mistakes one Dromio for the other and shamelessly woos him. Courtesans, gold chains, bungled sorcery, and lots of genuine slapstick (the Dromios, in particular, are repeatedly slapped, kicked, and beaten at every turn) lead, ultimately, to a series of happy reunions.

The Comedy of Errors is ideally suited to the sometimes noisy or distracting environment frequently encountered in outdoor venues. Hubbard’s direction gives her cast free rein to play up every ridiculous moment, and they take full advantage – even if the audience does not hear every word (although the cast does a great job of vocal projection) the physical comedy and deliberate pacing ensure that we’ll be able to follow every twist in the absurd tale. Both Dromios (Steven Grawrock and Neil Wade Freer) are veteran Shakespearean actors who excel at the kind of over-the-top mugging so familiar to 16th and 17th century audiences. Ty Hendrix and Walter Petryk (as Antipholus of Syracuse and Ephesus, respectively) capture their characters’ fundamental differences beautifully - although physically identical, Hendrix ‘s philandering tendencies contrast nicely with Petryk’s somewhat muddled sincerity.

Leslie Renee (the Courtesan) is new to Shakespeare, but has picked up the essence quickly – she gives her performance just the right note of sardonic seductiveness. Sarah Aldrich captures the fury and feminism of the fiery, jealous Adriana, in stark contrast to her milder sister Luciana, deftly and demurely played by Hannah Lauren Wilson.  Bobby Kaye Kupfner plays double duty as Abbess/Emilia and Luce the kitchen wench, and her lascivious Luce unquestionably draws the most laughs per minute of stage time.

In the outdoor environment, sets are not terribly elaborate, but there’s enough done with walls, platforms and curtains to establish a sense of place and time. Costume designer Allison Johnson helps to give the play a timeless air, with outfits appropriate to the roles but not evocative of any specific era.

The five winery performances (Helvetia Vineyards July 5-6-7, Plum Hill Vineyards July 12-13-14, Fairsing Vineyard July 19-20-21, Durant Vineyards July 26-27-28, and Torii Mor Winery August 2-3-4) offer plenty of opportunities to experience the fun of this summer’s Experience Theatre Project. Show times vary, so be sure to visit www.experiencetheatreproject.org for reservations and detailed information.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Twilight’s Latest Shockingly Funny

Jay Hash, Annie Trevisan, and Will Futterman

By Tina Arth

I first saw Twilight’s current production, No Sex Please, We’re British, at the Strand Theatre in London back in 1975, about four years after its 1971 debut. I pretty much hated it, and have nursed a flickering flame of contempt for the show ever since. My dismay when I learned that Twilight Theater Company was doing the show was eclipsed only by my surprise at last Friday’s opening when I found myself happily laughing (along with the rest of the audience) at this utterly ridiculous farce.

Playwrights Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot’s absurd tale takes a cheery look at the hypocrisy of late 1960s – early 1970s sexual strictures – in particular, with respect to pornography (which was broadly defined, widely illegal, and definitely deemed unacceptable by middle class Brits still recovering from the Victorian era). Newlyweds Peter and Frances Hunter have just moved into their new flat, located in Windsor above the bank where Peter is assistant manager. Frances has ordered what she thinks is glassware from the Scandinavian Import Company, hoping to sell it from the flat to earn an extra pound or two. When the boxes arrive, she finds that they have actually sent an assortment of pornographic pictures. With Peter’s widowed mother Eleanor on the way for her first visit, the couple is desperate to get rid of the offending photos a.s.a.p., and they embark (with the reluctant assistance of Peter’s co-worker, Brian Runnicles) on a series of ill-fated schemes – flushing them down the toilet, grinding them up in the garbage disposal, sinking them in the Thames – none successful. Frances compounds the problem by erroneously mailing a bank customer’s check to the Scandinavian Import Company, which Peter is of course frantic to retrieve. Eleanor arrives, followed by the smitten bank manager, Leslie Bromhead, a visiting bank inspector, a local police superintendent, and more porn (this time, videos). With the classic farce surplus of doors (front door, kitchen, den, bathroom, bedroom, spare room, and upstairs) the cast manage to miss each other at all of the key moments, even after the solicitous Scandinavian firm sends over two enthusiastic hookers to ensure that the customer is well and truly satisfied. In true farce fashion, things work out OK, but with a bit of a twist.

I spent some quality time figuring out why I so thoroughly enjoyed a show that I had previously scorned, and came up with three fundamental reasons: venue, run of show, and cast. “Venue” is obvious - I like my theater up close and personal, I want to see the actors act, and there’s not much comparison between the 1000+ seats in the Strand and the intimacy of Twilight’s tiny theater.  “Run of show” is reflected in the tradeoff between the letter perfect, but often lifeless, offerings of performers in year 4 of a 10-year run (spare me a farce in the hands of bored actors!) and the goofy, if occasionally bumbling, enthusiasm of local theater heroes at the beginning of a three-week run. Finally, there’s cast – not that Twilight draws better actors than London’s professional stages (and certainly the Brits had flawless accents) – but the right people on a small stage for a limited run generates such enthusiasm that the audience just cannot resist joining in the fun.

While the cast is solid, and everybody gets a share of the laughs, it is Jay Hash as Brian Runnicles who absolutely steals the show.  He has great comic timing, shifts facial expressions seamlessly from worried to downright frantic, and tumbles about the stage with the dexterity of a disorderly baboon as he desperately tries to hide from his boss and the police. Lesley Mansfield and Maddy Gourlay, as the two hookers, give Hash some serious competition – and kudos to the costumer who found just the right mechanical tassels for Mansfield’s bra!

Veteran actors Gina George and Philip Giesy (as Eleanor and Leslie) provide a nice contrast to the frantic shenanigans of the younger set – always calm, just slightly staid, but with a light in their eyes and enough double entendre to let the audience know where to look for the real hanky-panky.  Christopher Massey’s pajama-clad, heavily-drugged Mr. Needham is impressively upright, then impressively loose-limbed as his sleeping pills kick in, and Jeff Giberson’s slightly mush-mouthed Irish cop provides a nice combination of rigidity and idiocy. To the extent that there are straight men in the show, they are Will Futterman and Annie Trevisan (as hapless newlyweds Peter and Frances), but both actors get plenty of chances to dance on the edge of hysteria, and their few attempts at romance are great – reminiscent of comparably ill-starred moments in Barefoot in the Park.

As befits farce, there is an enormous amount of running about, and director Sarah Nolte Fuller has done a fine job of creating the illusion of chaos while maintaining absolute control over waves of physical comedy – I imagine that during rehearsal she must have felt very much like a traffic cop at rush hour. The result – a really silly, really funny show that inspires laughter, hoots, guffaws, even the occasional cheer from an appreciative audience.

Twilight Theater Company’s No Sex Please, We’re British is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through June 30, with performances at 8 P.M. on Thursday-Friday–Saturday, and 3:00 PM on Sunday. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Broadway Rose’s Momentous Into the Woods

By Tina Arth

As an unabashed fan of Stephen Sondheim, Broadway Rose, and Into the Woods it was no surprise to me that I absolutely loved the company’s opening night show last Friday. I expected no less, and was confident that the necessity of using the company’s relatively intimate New Stage would not diminish my enjoyment of a show often presented on larger stages, with more elaborate sets and a full orchestra. What I did not expect was that the show would actually be enhanced by the limited space and the consequent staging limitations.  Music director/pianist Eric Nordin partners with director/choreographer Jessica Wallenfels to present a one-piano arrangement of the score combined with pacing and choreography that leave Sondheim’s music and lyrics intact but allow James Lapine’s brilliant book to shine more brightly than I thought possible.

The trick? Obviously, casting is one key, and Wallenfels’ cast is superb. The stage is packed with vocalists fully capable of bringing the songs to life, but who also deliver both the broad physical comedy and serious moments that define Into the Woods’ innovative mixture of mirth and message.  I noticed in the program that Wallenfels shares choreography credit with the cast, and I love that she acknowledges that the final product is the result of a true collaboration. What else do I love? More than anything, the decision to frame the show as updated commedia dell’arte – a traveling troupe would not have elaborate sets or an orchestra, but they would have exaggerated emotional expression, elaborate costumes, and a Jack/Jill of all trades attitude, with the actors tackling not only multiple acting roles but also helping out wherever needed. At Broadway Rose, this flexibility is shown in the cast’s role as auxiliary musicians, incorporating percussion accents into the story, tossing in a kazoo solo, and (most brilliantly, in my opinion) seamlessly taking over the keyboard while Nordin takes his bow.

The show follows the story of the Baker and his wife, childless because of a multi-generational curse from the hideously ugly witch next door.  Their quest for a child brings them in contact with characters from Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Rapunzel (with a brief nod to Sleeping Beauty and Snow White). The first act follows (loosely) the three fairy tales through their happy resolutions, while the Baker and his wife get their child and the witch is restored to her former beauty, all wishes are fulfilled, and the act closes with the oh-so-happy “Ever After.” Act II explores the darker themes behind the stories (e.g., stealing is still stealing, even if it’s from a giant; killing is still killing, even it it’s a wolf), ultimately cautioning us to be careful about the things we wish for and say in the finale, “Children Will Listen.”

As there was nothing, in my opinion, not to love, I’ll skip the usual praise for the cast and instead offer up a few of my favorite “moments in the woods.” Moment #1: Erin Tamblyn’s Witch – when she sang “Stay With Me” I not only got chills, but I found myself wondering how humans had ever evolved to be able to make such magnificent music with their voices. Moments #2 & 3: Austin Comfort and Adam Elliott Davis (the two princes) going WAY over the top in both “Agony” and its reprise – and simply nailing the vocal and physical aspects with breathtaking energy. Moment #4: Hannah Sapitan as Little Red Riding Hood – how do I pick? When pressed, I’ll take her fearless delivery of “I Know Things Now.” But then there’s the fabulous moment when Comfort and Leah Yorkston (the Baker’s Wife) roll across the stage as they disentangle, Tyler Andrew Jones’ (Jack’s) poignant parting moment with Milky White, Eric Michael Little (The Baker) as he accepts his wife as a partner in “It Takes Two,” and Milky White’s explosive resurrection. My advice? Go see the show yourself (if you can get tickets – there aren’t many left!) and choose your own moments.  I may have to go back and choose a few more for myself.

Into the Woods is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, June 30th 28th.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Odd Couple Bringing Down the House in Forest Grove

ennis Reilly, Ken Centers, Jeff Wineland, Chuck Weed, Stevo Clay

By Tina Arth

If you are afraid that Neil Simon’s brilliant The Odd Couple is a little dated – like you’ve heard all of the jokes before, and there may not be a lot of surprises left in the script - then you’ve really got to head out to Theatre in the Grove’s current production to refresh your memory about why this is such a well-loved (and oft-produced) show. Co-directors Jeananne Kelsey and Pruella Centers and a really solid cast bring a freshness and energy that keep the audience fully engaged – even the scene change music is snappy!

Although many may never have seen the play, most adults are somewhat familiar with either the movie (starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon) or the long-running sitcom (starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall) about two very mismatched roommates, the impossibly slovenly Oscar Madison and the neat freak Felix Ungar, whose OCD has driven away his wife and now threatens to cost him his best friend. The weekly poker game in Oscar’s utterly filthy Manhattan apartment gets underway, but the regulars (Speed, Murray the cop, Roy, and Vinnie, plus Oscar) are all worried that Felix hasn’t shown up. A phone call lets them know that Felix’s wife Frances has thrown him out, and that he may be suicidal. Felix finally arrives, and Oscar rashly offers to let his good friend move in – there’s plenty of space in the 8-room apartment since Oscar’s ex-wife has moved out of town with the kids. Two weeks into the arrangement, Felix’s annoying cleanliness and hypochondria has driven Oscar to a near-homicidal rage, with a final outburst when Felix messes up a double date with the alluring and oh-so-available Pigeon sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn.

Theatre in the Grove’s production is distinguished by an abundance of exceptionally broad physical comedy. There are a few times when it almost feels as though the front rows should have been designated as a splash zone, with food and drink flying across the stage – and the actors throw themselves into their roles with the same vigor. Stevo Clay is a gleefully uninhibited Oscar, yet he never quite goes over the top and he reels in the comedy in key moments to reveal the loyal, big-hearted, and lonely man beneath the devil-may-care exterior. Zachary Centers’ Felix is the polar opposite – button down, neurotic, wearing his full-volume allergies like a badge of honor – yet still able to generate sympathy from the audience as well as the Pigeon sisters.

Complementing the strength of the two leads, the rest of the cast takes advantage of ample opportunities to sparkle. The Pigeon sisters (Lura Longmire as Gwendolyn, Mary Reischmann as Cecily) are utterly fabulous, as they titter, coo, and cry with their impeccable British accents through the ill-fated double date. The poker players (Jeff Wineland, Ken Centers, Chuck Weed, and Dennis Reilly) each manage to create a distinctive and memorable character – I was especially taken by the loving care with which Reilly and Centers shared and analyzed one of Felix’s carefully crafted sandwiches.

As is the norm at Theatre in the Grove, Zach Centers’ elaborately detailed set design provides the perfect backdrop. Costumes are equally appropriate, with special props for the bright mid-sixties mod clothing and the equally period coiffures of the Pigeon sisters.

The Odd Couple is classic comedy, but despite the sometimes-broad comedy, when played well it is definitely not farce. Theatre in the Grove has found just the right mix, and the result is a touching, believable, but very funny presentation of one of Neil Simon’s greatest works.

The Odd Couple is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through June 16, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.