Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Odd Couple at Lakewood Playhouse





(L to R) JOSEPH GRANT (Roy), JIM ROGERS (Felix) and GABRIEL McCLELLAND (Speed) - PHOTO by KATE PATERNO-LICK

(L to R) JIM ROGERS (Felix) and CHRIS CANTRELL (Oscar) - ALL PHOTO by KATE PATERNO-LICK
Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple is probably best known from the 1968 movie starring Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau and the 1970s TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. I mention this because of a conversation I had with the director, Steve Tarry, in the Lakewood Playhouse lobby opening night. He said that if you watch the old movie or TV series you would see that neither Oscar (played at Lakewood Playhouse by Christopher Cantrell) nor Felix (Jim Rogers) were very likeable. They were, in fact, quite irritating. But despite having all the same quirks and saying the same words, Felix and Oscar are both likeable in this version. It’s all in the way Cantrell and Rogers portray the characters.
In spite of their constant bickering, these two men care deeply for one another. That is clear through the show, and it is shown through tone of voice and gesture as Felix and Oscar scream invective at one another—a triumph of these actors’ ability to bring out the humanity in otherwise difficult characters.
To a lesser degree, the entire ensemble cast brings out the humanity in each of the supporting characters, each of whom is, on the surface, as neurotic and irritating as Felix and Oscar. Murray (Jed Slaughter) is a cop who is slow on the uptake but actual much more observant and intelligent than he seems. Speed (Gabriel McClelland) is a chain smoking, angry man who doesn’t put up with anything, except he’s really willing to forgive and forget. Vinnie (Martin Goldsmith) is a nervous wreck who obsessively brings up the same things over and over and over, and Roy (Joseph Grant) is also rather obsessive. He can’t stand smoke yet he is always seated next to chain-smoking Speed at their weekly poker games. The beauty of these characters is that each is a unique individual; they all clash with one another yet they all truly care for each other. And that comes across strong due to the ability of the actors.
The other two ensemble characters are as similar to each other as the men are different from each other. They are the Pigeon sisters, Cecily (Kadi Burt) and Gwendolyn (Palmer Scheutzow).  They are silly, constantly giggling women. I would say they are clich├ęd characters who could have been left out of the script or written with more depth of character but they provide one of the funniest scenes in the play.
Oscar is a slob who drinks excessively and lives in the most unkempt eight-room apartment in Manhattan. He’s been divorced for years. Felix’s wife, Frances, has just asked for a divorce and kicked him out. Despondent, Oscar takes him in as a roommate. Felix is a neat freak with a litany of irritating habits. Living together, they become the oddest of couples. Thus the title.
The set consists of a lot of furniture and a huge amount of props that are true to the time, 1965 and to the kinds of things Oscar would have in his apartment — record album covers from Sinatra and other pop favorites and sports magazines (Oscar is a sports writer).
Finally, I would like to add a nod to the director, stage manager Sarah Ross and company for the way they handle set changes. Set changes, especially for theaters that don’t have massive budgets, are often problematic. Stage hands often have to come out between scenes and move things, which is nearly always a distraction. What this cast and crew does, however, is so inventive that the stagehands were given a great ovation. I don’t think I can remember ever seeing that happen. In this play it happens twice, but the second time it happens so quickly that if you blink you might miss it. Obviously I’m not going to spoil the surprise.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 11
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $25.00, $22.00 military, $21.00 seniors and $19.00 students/educators
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042, www.lakewoodplayhouse.org

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