Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Featuring: John J. Maio, C. Conrad Cady, Stephanie Crowley and Nicole Martin
Directed by: Michael Sally
When: October 15 through November 1, 2015
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City, California
Tickets: $25 - $40; visit hillbarntheatre.org or call 1-650-349-6411.
to treasure in 'The Odd Couple'
and effective production at HillBarn Theatre
Most of us know "The Odd Couple" as two sparring roomies.
Oscar, the guy’s guy, slovenly, devil-may-care, cigar-smoking, poker-playing. And Felix, neat-freak, fastidious, the man who put the hyphen in anal-retentive. But Neil Simon’s 1965 play is much more than just a good-natured "tidy vs, messy" slanging match.
Oscar Madison, played to a T by John J. Maio, and four friends are playing poker at Oscar’s grossly untidy apartment in New York. Felix’s wife has called to tell them that she and Felix have broken up and he has been missing for hours. It is clear that although Felix’s OCD attitude toward cleanliness and indeed life "The only man who would send a suicide telegram" annoy the heck out of them, they still love him as a friend and are worried about him.
The quickfire repartee between the guys felt a little dated and was probably much funnier in 1965. I was afraid I might have two and a half hours of 1960s gags to sit through.
But then Felix appeared.
Distraught after walking out on his wife of 12 years and racked with guilt and fear for the future, Felix Ungar, played with wonderful childlike intensity by C. Conrad Cady, changes the whole dynamic. Has he swallowed a bottle of pills or hasn’t he? Does he want to jump from the twelfth floor or doesn’t he? The scene descends into farce as the friends try to calm Felix down, but they all end up running around like headless chickens.
"You’re the only man I know with clenched hair," exclaims Oscar to his friend.
The poker game irreparably broken for the night, the friends gradually disperse as Felix slowly starts tidying up the scattered newspapers a little preview of what’s in store for Oscar’s eight-room apartment in New York City. Oscar offers Felix a place to stay what are friends for, after all but has no idea what havoc Felix will wreak on his life.
The friends gradually open up a little, letting down their guard and showing some vulnerability. Felix knows he is difficult to live with (the allergy scene is hilarious), and Oscar, recently divorced, admits he too has his moments. So enthralling are Felix’s antics and facial expressions that one felt as if a spell had been lifted when the intermission arrived.
At the next poker game, everything has changed. The apartment is pristine and Felix waits on the guys hand and foot, popping in and out of the kitchen and generally being a mother hen, while Oscar deliberately drops cigar ash on the floor.
(The funny thing is, that in real life, or so I’m told, these two actors are the polar opposites of the people they portray on stage. Cady takes stuff as it comes, whereas Maio, who plays Oscar, is the one counting his fluffed lines [I didn’t notice any, by the way.])
Two English sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon, played with just the right amount of giggling by Stephanie Crowley and Nicole Martin, have moved in upstairs, and Oscar sees the perfect opportunity for a double date. How Felix ever landed a wife in the first place is a mystery when we see how he acts around these two English roses. He ruins the date for Oscar, but the ladies just want to mother him, though he turns down the invitation to their apartment.
In the aftermath, Oscar and Felix realize that even the best of friends often can’t live with each other without making some changes and compromises. This goes for couples of all kinds and without those changes, second and third marriages are often doomed to be repeats of the first.
In a poignant moment at the end, as the friends part, Felix refers to Oscar by his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s name, and Oscar does the same to Felix. Whether this is intentional or Freudian we’re not sure, but we do know that they are finally starting to acknowledge the hard-to-live-with parts of their personalities. We hope that change will follow.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at email@example.com