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I doubt there is a single offering from the prolific Neil Simon more recognizable than “The Odd Couple.” From the hit Broadway play, to the hit Hollywood movie, to the long-running comedy TV series, “The Odd Couple” has entered the language. Profoundly tidy people are called Felixes, and most Americans – at least those of a certain age – immediately know what that means.
Now Sierra Madre Playhouse has opened a new production of this time-honored play. Well done from start to finish, it highlights just how funny Simon’s play is, and how little it has aged – especially if (as this one is) it is set in its original timeframe of the mid-60s.
By now everyone knows the general idea. Oscar Madison, a determinedly slob by divorced man behind on his child support payments takes in his poker buddy, Felix Unger, when Felix’s wife kicks him out. Felix is obsessively clean and a meticulous cook, and soon the two opposite behavior patterns make their friendship fray. This, especially, when they plan an encounter with two silly British sisters from their apartment building.
The SMP production proves well cast from the outset, as the entire ensemble of poker-playing pals not only look just right, but sound just as they should. As one of the two central figures, Jack Sundmacher’s Oscar is a bit less oafish than sometimes, but that emphasizes the situational aspect of his sloppiness. Brad David Reed is a bit less comic in his moroseness than some versions of Felix, but it works into the comedy in a different, less derivative way. This is a good thing.
Highlights of the SMP cast are Kari Lee and Jane Lui as the giggly Pigeon sisters – the girls from upstairs. They are truly comic from first to last. The fascinating choice of making them Asian as well as British highlights the internationalism of New York, Britain and comedy in general – a good choice all around. As the weekly poker players, Vince DonVito, Joe Langer, Richard Van Slyke, and most especially Steve Bean, as Murray the policeman, provide the buddies who give this elementally male story its energy.
Director Alan Brooks has used the comparatively small SMP stage to the utmost, utilizing John Vertrees’ set design which artfully creates all the complexities of a NY apartment in that limited area. The costuming by Angela Nicholas centers the piece and – particularly in the case of the Pigeon sisters – emphasizes the comedy on occasion.
For those who somehow have never seen “The Odd Couple” this is a great place to start. For those who have, do not expect the characterizations here to be mirrors of the ones by Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon or Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. These actors have created their own sense of what Oscar and Felix should be, and that is one of the pleasures of seeing the production. So do.
What: “The Odd Couple” When: Through June 27, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, with one Saturday matinee on the closing day as well Where: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd in Sierra Madre How Much: $25 general, $22 seniors, $15 students 13-21, $12 children 12 and under Info: (626) 355-4318 or http://www.sierramadreplayhouse.org