BWW Reviews: THE ODD COUPLE Is Fun Summer Fluff at Ephrata
Neil Simon has been nothing if not a prolific playwright, but of all his works, many of which are classic, one stands out - THE ODD COUPLE. Based on the traditional humor concept of tossing two totally different characters in the same fishbowl for observation, the particular dynamic of the slovenly Oscar and the neurotically prissy Felix in Oscar's apartment is possibly the best-known and hardiest version of the "opposites will murder each other eventually" plot. It's hardy enough to have lasted for fifty years this year, revived everywhere and on its second (or third, if you count THE NEW ODD COUPLE as well) television series. It ought to have comic legs; legend has it that it's the fictionalized version of comic genius and general neurotic Mel Brooks' divorce from his first wife and his infliction of himself on a friend's apartment.
It's on stage at Ephrata Performing Arts Center now, directed by Tim Riggs, and displaying those legs that have kept it going; surprisingly, it may be the least dated of most if not all of Simon's work. Older than THE GOODBYE GIRL, for example, and clearly Sixties in every way, it still makes sense without resorting to the serious updating that doesn't always help some of Simon's other work. It's much like the equally period television show LAUGH-IN, perfect to appreciate in all of its Sixties glory.
It's a show that relies on perfect casting more than anything else. Bob Checcia's Oscar Madison is so perfectly Oscar, so charmingly realized in his I'll-just-walk-on-the-furniture carelessness, that you can't help but root for peanut shells on the carpet and ashes in the drinks. The show opens, and closes, and careens in between at points, with Oscar's weekly poker game, and the poker crowd is also a delight. John Kleimo is always a joy to see on the EPAC stage, and his Roy is no exception. But Bruce Weaver's Murray the cop, fellow poker enthusiast, is a standout, moving about like a jumping jack, ever vigilant for danger of the real or imagined sort, always concerned for the welfare of his friends, and only marginally able to keep his mind on track for anything.
Kevin Fisher's Felix Ungar, Oscar's obsessively neat, neurotically hypochondriac, best friend, has great anti-chemistry with Checchia; their I-like-you-can-I-kill-you-now relationship is great fun for the audience, especially any time Felix is near food. If there's any flaw with Fisher's Felix, it's that, while he's thankfully not trying to deliver the audience yet another Tony Randall impression, there are moments he seems to be falling into an impression of Neil Patrick Harris. Admittedly Harris would make a marvelous Felix himself, but Fisher is at his best when he's clearly himself and no one else. It's at those moments when the audience can realize that each of the two men is almost a mirror of the other's ex-wife, which explains the love-hate dynamic.
But if there's one thing an ODD COUPLE audience wants and needs, it's the legendary, indescribably Swinging Sixties Pigeon Sisters. Amy Carter and Heidi Carletti are, respectively, Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon, health enthusiasts and lovers of air conditioning... and of sharing their air conditioning with gentleman callers. As it should be, the highlight scene of the show is Felix's blubbering conversation with the sisters over his wallet photographs of his family. But the Pigeon Sisters are themselves highlights every time they appear.
THE ODD COUPLE has become a bit of a summer staple for theatres, and well it should be; it's purely fluff, good for cooling overheated brains while audiences laugh helplessly. This production's no exception; like a carnival, it delivers massive doses of cotton candy for the soul. Go ahead and laugh. Just don't drop anything on the floor, or Felix will be after you immediately.
At Ephrata Performing Arts Center through June 27, and worth the effort to make the trip. Tickets and information at ephrataperformingartscenter.com, or call 717-733-7966.