Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The Odd Couple
The Odd Couple focuses on two middle-aged men, recently divorced Oscar (Russ Whismore), in his eight-room Manhattan apartment, and his friend, newly separated Felix (David Boyll). When the weekly poker game at Oscar's pad gets interrupted by Felix's suicidal threats following his eviction from home, Oscar is prompted to offer Felix a temporary landing, which Felix gratefully accepts.
We soon learn that Felix's neatnik habits, compulsions and neuroses make a poor match with Oscar's free-wheeling, slovenly bachelor demeanor, leading to amusing arguments and stand-offs. A botched double date with the Pigeon sisters (Jayme Catalano and Crystal Wilson) brings the ill-fated pairing to a final confrontation, and ultimately a funny, fitting resolution.
It's not deep or dense, but it is a rather brilliant early entry in the "sitcom on stage" genre, which Simon practically invented in the 1960s. Filled with zingers, sight gags, and farcical elements, it relies on engaging an audience's sympathy and identification, laughter arising from the slightly exaggerated reality of likable, believable characters.
Whismore as Oscar isn't nearly slovenly enough or gruff enough, especially in the opening poker scene, but improves in his scenes with Felix. Boyll's Felix delights, with his nasal honking and victim-posing, bringing enjoyable life to a potentially difficult character. He could go even further with it all while avoiding mugging expressions.
Jill Wagoner, while something of an anachronism as a woman in a men's poker game in 1965, nicely fills the role of Speed with her no-nonsense pronouncements and wisecracks. Catalano and Wilson are terrific Pigeons, making their iconic scene work wonderfully, in spite of some inappropriate pawing of Felix. As three other poker friends, Patrick Barr, Philip Coleman and Frederick Lein do their best with lightly drawn characters.
Ross Valley Players' production contains some lively, laugh-out-loud moments, but not enough of them to do homage to a comic classic. Timing feels off, or ignored; pace is too fast in spots, slow in others; and mostly the characters fail to engage our sympathies. It's hard to see any chemistry or friendship between the two men, despite their declarations of "best buddy" status. The prolonged shouting in act three runs roughshod over the humor and the supposed relationship.
There are numerous missed moments for laughswhere is the unholy mess in the apartment at start of the show? What happened to the amusing deadpan exchanges in the poker game? Where are the uncomfortable, awkward pauses in the date scene with the Pigeon sisters? Too many lost opportunities.
Set design by Ron Krempetz gives us Oscar's spacious apartment, but the poker table is too far upstage for us to appreciate the action. Sound design by Bruce Vieira adds nice commentary to the action, and Frank Sarubbi has done a good job with lighting. Costumes by Michael A. Berg evoke 1965, but seem too tame for delineating Oscar and Felix. Dhyanis Carniglia has a field day with period props.
A true classic that's "hard to hurt," The Odd Couple at Ross Valley Players will undoubtedly improve your evening, and perhaps remind you why Neil Simon is often called the master of comedy.
Ross Valley Players' The Odd Couple through December 16, 2018, at the Barn Theater at Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross CA. Tickets $15.00-$27.00 can be purchased online at www.rossvalleyplayers.com or by phone at 415-456-9555.