|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.