Monday, July 02, 2007

Richmond Times-Dispatch review of 'Odd Couple'

'Odd Couple' is a timeless comedy
Neil Simon's beloved 1965 play still has the ring of truth


Barksdale Theatre's second Hanover Tavern season validates their premise: classic comedies and mysteries are reliable crowd-pleasers.

And no playwright is more trustworthy than Neil Simon. And no Neil Simon play is more foolproof than "The Odd Couple."

This beloved 1965 comedy still works -- hilarious situations, brilliant punch lines and the ring of truth. When the pathologically fussy Felix Unger is kicked out by his fed-up wife, his divorced friend Oscar Madison takes him in, and thus is born a mismatch for the ages. "It's not your fault, Felix," Oscar the slob admits. "We're just a rotten combination."

Joe Pabst directs in the usual Pabstian style: over the top, swinging for the fences with every line. It works here most of the time; the only false note, really, is the notion that Scott Wichmann's Felix could really be a close friend and poker buddy of David Bridgewater's Oscar.

A skinny tie, slicked-back hair and heavy black glasses don't make Wichmann look like a father of two who's been married for 12 years.

But otherwise, no complaints. The four poker buddies are totally convincing, especially Jeff Clevenger, who speaks with the music of Brooklyn. The Pigeon sisters are wacky and hysterical. Gwendolyn (Jennifer Frank) is especially alarming in her scary bouffant wig, and it's fun to see Jen Meharg, Wichmann's wife, play Cecily opposite him.

Terrie Powers and David Powers provide the shabby Manhattan apartment set, with the requisite swinging door to the kitchen. Heather Hogg outfits everyone in the right 1960s wardrobe. There's even an A&P grocery bag for authenticity.

Wichmann is great as always with the combination of physical comedy and neurotic dialogue, and his ear-clearing snorts are unlike other sounds made by man.

Bridgewater plays Oscar as a sort of combination Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton from "The Honeymooners." This is an interesting choice, since Art Carney, who played Ed Norton in "The Honeymooners," was the original Felix (not Oscar!) on Broadway. His quiet moments on the phone with his ex-wife are as believable as his air-freshener attack on Felix.

It's no accident that this play has spawned a hit movie, a TV series and numerous adaptations over the years -- it's a modern classic. Pabst's program note suggests that Simon will eventually join George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in the American comedy pantheon, and surely he's right about that.


Tom said...

Another celebrated Wichmann performance. I guess if you just gray up your temples you would fully please the critic.

Oh, if only the rest of us were half as good at our jobs as you are at yours.

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