Odd Couple Felix Oscar

Mrs K and I caught the Saturday matinee performance of the Actor’s Theatre of Indiana (ATI) production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple”. (Sadly, this is the final weekend of this show’s run in The Studio Theater at the Center for the Performing Arts.) It happened to be our first visit to this particular venue and I must say – it is impressive: very comfortable, with great sightlines and sound, free parking a few steps away and a shiny newness that has not yet worn off. I’ll look forward to upcoming shows there, you can be sure.

The play itself is that recognizable old Simon chestnut which premiered on Broadway in 1965, at the movie theatres in 1968, and in our living rooms as a television offering on three separate occasions. As old and familiar as the plot and characters are, it nevertheless is a fun romp with every viewing. This production, directed by Jeff Stockberger, is true to it’s Simon pedigree; there was no attempt (or need) to modernize the funny setting of outrageous characters in an unlikely situation in 1965 New York City.

Don Farrell, Jeremy Grimmer, Darrin Murrell, Adam Crowe and Dave Ruark man the poker table in ATI's "The Odd Couple"

Don Farrell, Jeremy Grimmer, Darrin Murrell, Adam Crowe and Dave Ruark man the poker table in ATI’s “The Odd Couple”

Right from the first lines at the poker table, this sterling cast delivers a solid rendition. The poker player roles are deftly presented with Adam O. Crowe as impatient Speed, Jeremy Grimmer as the nebbish Vinnie, Darrin Murrell as worrywart cop Murray, and Dave Ruark as a chain-smoking Roy. The poker night is being held at the trashy apartment of slovenly Oscar Madison, played with unfailing energy by ATI co-founder Don Farrell. Soon, conflict arrives in the person of the neurotically neat but tightly wound (“the only man in the world with clenched hair”) Felix Ungar, portrayed with a just right fussiness by Bradley Reynolds.

Throughout the early scenes, the Farrell and Reynolds combo establish their iconic Oscar/Felix personality clash in an original and freshened way, giving us no reminder of the popular forebears: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Tony Randall or Jack Klugman. The duo worked extremely well together, missing no laughter opportunities, setting ’em up and laying ’em down with polish and panache. It was truly a joy to watch these two pros work their craft.

Bradley Reynolds, Carrie Bennett Fedor, Katy Gentry and Don Farrell trade introductions in ATI's "The Odd Couple"

Bradley Reynolds, Carrie Bennett Fedor, Katy Gentry and Don Farrell trade introductions in ATI’s “The Odd Couple”

When the time came for the Pigeon sister’s turn onstage, we were greeted with a wonderful visual joke of the taller Cicely (played by Carrie Fedor) and the shorter Gwendolyn (portrayed by Katy Gentry). This was one of those rare laugh-getters where all the actresses had to do was step on stage and stand there. Dutifully, the audience showed their appreciation of the obvious nuance. As their scene progressed, these actresses also found some original territory to dwell in with their crazy laughs, and timely facial gags.

Honestly, this play is very familiar terrain. We really do know what is going to happen next here and, in many cases look forward to it. But this cast and director have met the challenge, unabashedly presenting the play as a period piece while knowing that the rock-solid Neil Simon script would allow them to lay down some original ideas within the framework that we all know so well without damaging the audience’s perception. It was well conceived and well done.

And I very nearly forgot to mention one other original feature: the marvelous set change from the messy apartment to the clean one which occurs in Act 1. In most productions, one might see one or two stagehands scrambling about, picking up this or that debris. It HAS to be done and it is never very entertaining. But the ATI production adds a rare flair to the process, using the several poker playing characters dressed in aprons and, in quite the choreographed procedure, making the scene change a veritable tour de force of well thought out, sometimes hilarious, activity. It is just another memorable moment in the show.

As I stated at the beginning, sadly this is the final weekend for this presentation. There is one golden opportunity left however – the 2pm Sunday matinee on November 17th. If you are lucky enough to have the chance to attend, go to http://www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org/tickets/reserve.aspx?performanceNumber=2247 to select your seat and enjoy this wonderfully original “The Odd Couple”. I guarantee you will enjoy it. (Hey, there’s no Colts game tomorrow…just saying!)

* – Photos by Actor’s Theater of Indiana