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BWW Review: Slow Pacing and Poor Blocking Choices Hamper Consider This' THE ODD COUPLE


If a Simon script isn’t performed at top-speed, the jokes and rejoinders, cracks and pratfalls will fall flat

BWW Review: Slow Pacing and Poor Blocking Choices Hamper Consider This' THE ODD COUPLE
Tyson Pate as Oscar Madison in THE ODD COUPLE

If there is one truism about the theater it's this: put up a Neil Simon comedy and wait for the laughs to ensue. Let's face it, Simon is one playwright whose work is virtually guaranteed to supply plenty of laughs, outright guffaws and enough knee-slapping humor to keep audiences in stitches until the final curtain rings down.

Of course, it's essential that Mr. Simon's plays - no matter how funny the dialogue and situations he supplies the creative team and cast may be - are well-paced, delivering the veritable knock-out blows of each line with precise comic timing. No matter how well-intentioned, if a Simon script isn't performed at top-speed, chances are the jokes and rejoinders, the cracks and the pratfalls are likely to fall flat.

BWW Review: Slow Pacing and Poor Blocking Choices Hamper Consider This' THE ODD COUPLE
Shondell McFall

Case in point: Consider This Theater Company's production of The Odd Couple (now onstage through Sunday, July 18, at Mills-Pate Arts Center in Murfreesboro) on opening night showed great promise during Act One, only to be overwhelmed by poor blocking choices and lackluster pacing in Act Two (which, in reality, is a combination of acts two and three in the original script that first bowed on Broadway in 1965).

Directed by Malinda Morgan in the expansive space afforded her in the Mills-Pate Arts Center (which either is or was a church), Consider This' tale of the misadventures of mismatched roommates Oscar Madison (Tyson Pate) and Felix Ungar (Sean Richardson) becomes more of an immersive experience for audiences, with the set taking over virtually the entire space and action happening in far-flung corners of the room.

It's a clever and promising notion (hey, there's even a toilet in the lobby where Oscar's bathroom would be if this were a real New York apartment), if daunting, drawing the audience into the hijinks of Oscar, Felix and their poker-playing pals (including Shondell McFall as Murray, Alex White as Roy, Sam Brewer as Speed, and Danny Wells as Vinnie). However, the fact that actors must traverse such large tracts of real estate to move from, say, the poker table to the front door - and various and sundry points in between - it is impossible to keep the play's action moving at the requisite pace.

BWW Review: Slow Pacing and Poor Blocking Choices Hamper Consider This' THE ODD COUPLE
Sean Richardson and Sam Brewer

Morgan's cast does an admirable job in the play's first stanza, keeping the action flowing from one moment to the next while eliciting a good response from the audience (although the director's own reactions were louder than anyone else's, to be sure). But when the second (and third?) act come along, the comedy can't withstand the lugubrious pace that falls upon the scene. Attempts at zaniness notwithstanding, everything grinds to a snail's pace and the ensuing moments seem interminable. By the time the Pigeon sisters, played gamely by Jessica Wells and Patti Long Lee, arrive for cocktails, they can't save the pacing anymore than they can save Felix's overcooked London broil.

It's entirely possible that the show's pacing and the cast's somewhat stilted delivery of Simon's iconic lines have improved since opening night, so we're more than willing to give Morgan and her ensemble the benefit of the doubt. Yet, while Pate and Richardson are swell as the obstinate Oscar and fastidious Felix (why is he not wearing a wedding ring and why is his button-down collar isn't buttoned down?), we cannot help but speculate that perhaps the characters would be better served had Mr. Pate been cast as foppish Felix and Mr. Richardson as slovenly Oscar.

The Odd Couple. By Neil Simon. Directed by Malinda Morgan. Assistant direction by Sarah Wells. Stage managed by Mark McClish. Presented by Consider This Theater Company. At Mills-Pate Arts Center, 7120 Old Nashville Highway, Murfreesboro. Through Sunday, July 18. For details, go to Running time: 3 hours (with one 15-minute intermission).

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