BWW Review: 'THE ODD COUPLE' at Elmwood Playhouse
In 1947, Harry Truman was president, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, the first Polaroid camera was introduced and a UFO landed in Roswell, New Mexico. Oh yeah, and The Elmwood Playhouse, in Nyack, New York first opened its doors! Since then Elmwood has staged over 367 main stage productions, and had over 250,000 audience members have passed through their doors.
Their 70th season kicked off with a classic comedy favorite: "The Odd Couple." The word "odd" clearly had some different connotations in 1965 than it does today. In fact, the idea of two unrelated men sharing an apartment in 2017 is so normal that one could wonder what was the big deal at all. And the concept of a man cooking and cleaning, which may have seemed hilariously original 50 years ago is also so commonplace that several of the sight-gags (Felix entering wearing an apron, or vacuuming the house) that drew huge laughs in original production go by completely unnoticed today. As a result, there's much more pressure on the actors to be spot on in their comic timing and delivery of the classic one-liners that fill every page of "The Odd Couple."
Luckily, the cast at Elmwood Playhouse's new production of "The Odd Couple" was up to the task.
Directed with great gusto and buoyancy by Margaret Young the play, while ostensibly an ensemble piece, was more a vehicle for Paul Russo's Oscar and Michael Frohnhoefer's Felix. In the first act, Russo's Oscar was far more sensitive and reasonable than we are used to seeing from actors in the role. It was a very effective choice, as it further highlighted and underscored his change of heart toward his new roommate in act two. Russo brought great depth to Oscar, making his journey from concern for Felix, to fury at Felix, to missing Felix, the emotional center of the play. Frohnhoefer was hilarious as the poor, neurotic, recently separated-from-his-wife Felix, who is alternately aware and unaware of how much of a pest he is. Frohnhoefer was appropriately over-the-top, while remaining charming as little by little, Felix destroys every important relationship in his life.
The key to any production of "The Odd Couple" is the chemistry between Felix and Oscar, and Frohnhoefer and Russo had plenty. That's especially critical because it's very easy for both characters to fall into cliched stereotypes. However, the level of nuance and detail that the two leads brought to their portrayals of Oscar and Felix kept them, engaging, fun, and likeable despite their mammoth personal flaws. Frohnhoefer's frenetic movements and obsessive behavior juxtaposed against Russo laconic pace and tortured, hound-dog expressions were pitch perfect.
The supporting cast was equally impressive. The poker bunch, (Murray the Cop) Stephen Moscatello, (Speed) Stavros Adamides, (Roy the Accountant) Larry Beckerle, and (Vinnie) Jim Harris, were all superb, providing hilarious one-liners, often followed by the difficult truths that Felix and Oscar didn't want to hear. The Pigeon Sisters, Gwendolyn and Cecily, were as always, show-stealers. Jeanmarie Garver-Gaydos and Janica Carpenter were delightfully over-the-top and brought the house down each time they entered.
The entire concept of the domestic farce has pretty much disappeared from the American theater in the last twenty years. The argument is always that today's more sophisticated audiences will no longer tolerate this kind of slow-paced, one-liner-driven, comedy. However, for pure fun and entertainment, it's really hard to beat. And Elmwood's current production is no exception. This "Odd Couple" is a winner and Elmwood's 70th season is off to a great start.
"The Odd Couple" runs through October 7th.