Oddities: The gang meets for poker at Oscar and Felix's.
Actors Theatre Center revisits the fail-proof mismatched roommates of 'The Odd Couple'
By Marianne Messina
NEIL SIMON'S original version of The Odd Couple engendered a film, a TV series and an updated revival, yet the humor in a couple of polar opposites confined together under one roof never gets tired. Unlike the TV series, the play now running at Historic Hoover Theatre takes Oscar Madison (Steve Dini) and Felix Ungar (Jeff Hicks) through a shapely arc with a fairly healthy resolution. The play opens on a men's-night-out card game among Oscar Madison and his friends. In this Actors Theatre Center production, Oscar's New York flat (with quaint miniature buildings outside a bay window) has clothes strewn over every free surface and a table cluttered with food and drink. Whoever came up with this show's humorous stage biz (directed by D. Scott Hartman) has done time as a frat boy—from spraying coke cans to eating an overturned bag of chips off the table.
Into this housekeeping nightmare walks neat-freak Felix Ungar. The two recently divorced men—Felix in his dress shirt and pants; Oscar in his overlarge jeans and overlong T-shirt—couldn't be more different. And once Felix moves in, the men's night at cards becomes a tablecloth and folded-napkin affair with perfect sandwiches ordered to taste and Felix running to and from the kitchen in his tidy apron. The set change from before-Felix to after-Felix is humorous all on its own—surfaces gleam spotless where once the dirty laundry spread and the pile of loose chips on the table is replaced by a single red rose.
Dini keeps his Oscar low-key, someone who can't be bothered rather than overtly hostile—until the ashes fly. I saw Hicks' first night as Felix after a sudden personnel change, yet he seemed remarkably comfortable in the role. As the man who won't "let loose" (according to Oscar) or drink or sit still until his house is spotless, Hicks opens up the familiar character to let in some air. Where wiry, high-strung Felixes in the vein of Jack Lemmon and Tony Randall can give off a puritanical air, Hicks' doughy, fragile Felix is a veritable Eeyore of mopey "walking soap opera." When Oscar invites two English good-time girls, the Pigeon sisters, to dinner, it's no wonder they respond to this Felix and his lamentations—"Snip, cut and I was free" he says of his divorce. He's not a smug Felix, if maybe a tiny bit sly.
In the good-gag department, this production has Oscar spruce up for the girls by shaving his overhanging gut and reaching up under his T-shirt to daub his stale self with cologne (Gail Hicks did the costume design). When the girls, Cecily (Shubhra Prakash) and Gwendolyn (Elizabeth A. Taylor), come onto the scene, they brighten up the manly mix, adding comic relief by caricature to the verbal bickering. Judging from their accents, the sisters were raised on opposite sides of the English tracks, Cecily being the more genteel, and loud-voiced Gwendolyn being the party maker. Taylor humorously renders Gwendolyn's slow wit with the mannerisms of a glitching robot.
Though the buddy interaction around the card table has wooden moments, the production choreographs some funny bits into the men's reactions, for example, when Felix slams a book, and they all jump. This is a relatively tame Odd Couple. The two leads have the laid-back style of homebodies—Frumpy and Chunky—but things do get nasty as their unofficial feud (Felix doesn't admit he's angry) escalates. Oddly enough, the couple comes up with a happy ending.
The Odd Couple, an Actors Theatre Center presentation, plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2:30pm through July 1 at the Historic Hoover Theatre, 1635 Park Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $18. (408.985.5500)
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