Over the years, Neil Simon’s original 1965 play “The Odd Couple” has been put to good use. Following a two-year Broadway run of nearly a thousand performances, it was made first into a movie, then a highly successful television series. It ran for five years on TV and the exploits of two very dissimilar guys who find themselves sharing the same apartment created a host of new fans. Later years brought even more permutations, including an animated version and a female version penned by Simon. “The Odd Couple” remains a favorite of theatres both big and small, and the Purple Rose is currently doing its part in keeping the franchise healthy with a lively version of its own.
The show’s premise is a simple one: have a fastidious news writer (Felix Ungar played by David Montee) take up residence with a slovenly sportswriter (Oscar Madison played by PR artistic director Guy Sanville, looking like he’s received the super deluxe character transformation in makeup) and watch the sparks fly. It’s poker night at Oscar’s apartment, and all of his blue-collar buddies, Speed (David Bendena), Murray (Jim Porterfield), Roy (Chris Lutkin), and Vinnie (Tom Whalen) are seated around the card table. But this evening, cards are the farthest thing on their minds. They’re concerned because Felix, one of the regulars, has been thrown out of his house by his wife and may be out walking the streets of New York thinking destructive thoughts.
Their concern soon proves to be unwarranted as Felix turns up and, out of force of habit, proceeds to start cleaning up Oscar’s messy apartment. After the card players leave, Oscar, feeling sorry for his friend because he, too, has experienced the same kind of rejection from his former wife, invites Felix to stay over for a few days until he can get back on his feet.
The first act of Simon’s play is essentially built on a single joke: Felix is neat, Oscar isn’t, and when their differing world-views collide, funny things are bound to happen. Felix cooks, cleans, and walks around wearing major portions of a dress suit. Oscar orders carryout, litters the floor with his laundry, and wears short sleeve shirts and khakis. Sanville and Montee make for a great pair of contrary buddies, attracting each other like those magnetized Scottie dogs, even while their personalities drive them apart.
The play takes a significant leap forward in the second act when Oscar proposes having dinner with two ladies from a neighboring apartment he met on the elevator. Because they’re English bred and the Brits love to call their young ladies “birds”, not to mention the fact that they’re both a little flighty, it seems appropriate that Simon has named them them the Pigeon sisters. Gwendolyn and Cecily are two free-spirited, fun-loving young ladies whose honesty overwhelms both Felix and Oscar. Nicely played by Michelle Mountain and Rhiannon Ragland, the two ladies steal the show during the time they’re on stage.
“The Odd Couple” has achieved classic comedy status in the 50 years since it was first produced. The production at the Purple Rose is fresh, engaging, and full of laughter. See it for a quick winter-time picker-upper.
“The Odd Couple” is directed by Lauren Mounsey, a fine first effort for her innagural directorial assignment at the Purple Rose. The nicely furnished living area of Oscar’s apartment is designed by Bartley H. Bauer. Lighting comes courtesy of Reid G. Johnson, costumes are by Corey T. Collins.
Concurrent with the Purple Rose’s production of “The Odd Couple” is the Female Version being presented by the Tipping Point Theatre. See above (February 3rd) for a review of their production.
“The Odd Couple” runs through March 26th. Ticket reservations may be made by calling the Purple Rose box office at 734.433.7673 or going online at www.purplerosetheatre.org. The theatre is located at 137 Park Street in Chelsea.