There’s no more proven commodity for community theatres than Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. A reliable audience-pleaser since its 1965 Broadway debut, the story of mismatched roommates has been adapted for film and television numerous times and Simon himself rewrote it for an all-female cast. The Ross Valley Players production running through December 16 is co-directors Mike Reynolds and Jay Krohnengold’s take on the classic.
The happily divorced and slovenly Oscar Madison (Russ Whismore) takes the soon-to-be-divorced and persnickety Felix Unger (David Boyll) into his New York apartment after Felix’s wife throws him out. The very reasons for the marriage breaking up soon breaks up the regular Friday night poker game. Will the same thing happen to the friendship?
There are several odd things about this production beyond the titular characters. The first is the set design. The poker table, around which so much of the show’s action takes place, is set far up stage. With so much unused space downstage, why set the action away from the audience? It also may be the reason so much of the dialogue delivered from that area was yelled. Did the actors feel the distance required them to really project? And what’s with Oscar’s home – at least pre-Felix – never being that messy?
The casting of the players is also a bit odd. Vinnie (Patrick Barr), Murray (Philip Goleman), and Roy (Frederick Lein) are joined by Speed, played by Jill Wagoner, a somewhat anachronistic but nevertheless interesting choice. Even odder is that Ms. Wagoner delivers the only real character work among the group. It’s a perfect example of the difference between delivering a performance and delivering lines.
Another odd choice is Boyll’s overplaying of Felix. His Felix is such a neurotic from the start that there’s nowhere for the character to go. The tension between Oscar and Felix is supposed to build, but Boyll’s (or the directors’) choices made me wonder why Oscar didn’t throw him out the 12th Floor window within minutes of his arrival. Excessive facial mugging turns the character into a cartoon, and the show suffers for it.
Coming to the show’s rescue were Jayme Catalano and Crystal Wilson as the delightful Pidgeon sisters. They brought heart, something sadly lacking from most other aspects of this production. There are laughs – there have to be, it’s Neil Simon – but there should have been a whole lot more.
‘The Odd Couple’ runs through December 16 at the Barn Theatre in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Thursday, 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday, 8 pm; Sunday, 2 pm. $12 – $27. 415.883.4498. rossvalleyplayers.com
Photos by Robin Jackson
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the Pacific Sun.