THE ODD COUPLEby Neil Simon
Dallas Theater Center
Director - Kevin Moriarty
Scenic Design - Timothy R. Mackabee
Costume Design - Jennifer Caprio
Lighting Design - Tyler Micoleau
Sound Design - Broken Chord
Stage Manager - Chris "Waffles" Wathen
Oscar Madison - J. Anthony Crane
Felix Ungar - Michael Mastro
Speed - Lee Trull
Murray - John Taylor Phillips
Roy - Hassan El-Amin
Vinnie - Chamblee Ferguson
Gwendolyn Pigeon - Tiffany Hobbs
Cecily Pigeon - Mia Antoinette Crowe
Reviewed Performance: 3/22/2013
Reviewed by Sten-Erik Armitage, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Dallas Theater Center's The Odd Couple proved to be more than just a revival of a Broadway hit from the past. Through making the most of every trick in the book, this production stood on its own. One of the most impressive of these "tricks" was the set design by Tim Mackabee. The moment my wife and I walked into the theater, I knew we were in for a treat. The Odd Couple has traditionally been done on a proscenium stage. Mackabee created a pseudo-theater in the round experience with an innovative thrust-configuration unlike anything I've seen before.
The unique nature of the extremely adaptable Wyly Theater (see this impressive time-lapse video to see this venue's flexibility in action) allowed Mackabee to create a multi-tiered thrust that beautifully recreated Oscar Madison's living room. This set was far more than a mere facade visible to the audience. Through Oscar's windows you could see across the alley into the neighboring apartment, complete with window dressing and furniture. Through doors the audience only briefly sees fully realized rooms, creating a greater sense of realism for both the audience and cast member. The capstone of the set is the extension of the room's crown molding that extends over the stage creating an invisible fourth-wall, giving the audience the very real sense that they are looking into this apartment from the outside. This set must be seen to be appreciated. This was Macabee's first project with the Dallas Theater Center and my hope is it begins a long relationship as his work on this production has been some of the most innovative and effective I have seen.
Jennifer Caprio had the daunting task of recreating early 1960's apparel as if it were new again. Utilizing mostly authentic vintage costumes, every cast member was dressed according to the period in a way that seemed natural and not distracting. The delectable Pigeon sisters wore bold colored Mod costumes that fit their roles, capturing their spirit and the decade perfectly. The period authenticity does not end with wardrobe. From the old Ma Bell green rotary phone on the end table to the throw pillows on the couches, the props and properties were spot on.
Tyler Micoleau orchestrated a lighting schema that followed the action and highlighted elements of the set - both on and off stage - without drawing attention to the lighting itself. This is a challenging feat. When lighting is done poorly, people know it. They may not be able to put their finger on what is wrong, but they know something is off. Micoleau mastered the art of making the lighting a part of the set or even a member of the cast. The lighting did exactly what it was supposed to do, allowing the actors to shine and subtly focusing the audience's attention appropriately. The music between acts and interspersed throughout the scenes was handled well by the Broken Chord Collective. One particularly memorable moment occurred when the intermission music over the house speakers seamlessly transitioned to the phonograph on the stage when the next scene began in earnest. Very well done!
The show opens in the middle of the weekly poker game held in Oscar Madison's train-wreck of an apartment. Oscar, a newly divorced sports writer, has allowed his eight-room apartment to devolve into something between a grade-school science project on mold cultures and the before picture from an ad for a daily maid service. The poker game is missing its most reliable member, Felix Unger. It is soon revealed that Felix has been kicked out of his home and has been wandering the city in a suicidal haze.
J. Anthony Crane took a new spin to the slovenly and traditionally abrasive Oscar Madison. Don't get me wrong. Slovenly is still there in abundance. But this Oscar was far more human and real than has traditionally been done. Crane lent a depth to Oscar without sacrificing the wit of Simon's script. The advantage of the intimate venue created through this innovative staging was demonstrated through Crane's acting. Every facial expression, posture shift and comic reaction could be seen in detail. It took something special to be able to exercise perfect comic timing yet maintain the depth of Oscar's tragic situation. Thankfully, Crane possessed that something special. He transitioned from verbally sparring with his poker-playing friends to the bitter sweetness of an estranged father on the phone quickly and beautifully.
Michael Mastro captured the neurotic desperation of the hypochondriac Felix Unger masterfully. With his random aches and pains, bizarre wheezes and whistles and obsessive mannerisms, Mastro was a walking maestro of tragic comedy. Early on it was difficult to catch all of Mastro's lines due to his caricature of a congested sinus sufferer, but that cleared up as the play progressed. The transformation from the despondent and sickly Felix of the first act to the emotional transformation at the top of the third act was a sight to behold. It was here that Mastro shone as a performer. His Felix Unger was no mere comic stereotype - he was a developing and dynamic character. Well done, Mastro!
The chemistry between Mastro and Crane was unmistakable. Despite all the over the top comedy, annoyance, and suppressed rage, the audience knew that this relationship had a foundational friendship that would weather any storm. These two actors were marvelous together on stage.
In the first act the ballet of comedy was seen in exquisite splendor. Thanks to a call from Felix's soon to be ex-wife Francine, the poker game is aware of his situation when he finally arrives at Oscar's apartment. As men are wont to do, they all pretend they don't know anything. This resulted in a perfectly choreographed scene where all the men are intently watching Felix's every move until he turns to look at them at which point they are instantly transformed into the disinterested poker game. It was during this scene that I knew this cast would be able to handle Simon's challenging script. All the actors executed this demanding physical comedy with impeccable timing.
Lee Trull as Speed, Hassan El-Amin as Roy the accountant, and Chamblee Ferguson as Vinnie danced the thin line between comic caricature and authentic representation very capably. The standout member of the poker game was John Taylor Phillips as Murray, the police officer. He was the most consistently believable of the quartet. His brilliant comic moments seemed almost accidental, and true to the beat cop's personality.
Any production of The Odd Couple would be incomplete without a couple of lovely "birds" to serve as romantic foils to our relationally-challenged roommates. Enter sisters from England Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon, played by Tiffany Hobbs and Mia Antoinette Crow, respectively.
The Pigeon sisters are a comic delight. Despite an inconsistent accent from Crowe, these two women crackled with energy, sexual innuendo, and matronly compassion as the situation dictated. Hobbs had the entire venue captivated with her raucous and addictive laughter.
Kevin Moriarty molded his cast into a comic machine that transcended stereotypical slapstick, and morphed it into an emotionally compelling comedy with depth. Every aspect of this production radiated excellence.
If you have yet to experience a Neil Simon play, this Dallas Theater Center production is the one to see. Here you see the beautiful complexity of Simon's work performed as it should be. Don't miss this opportunity to enjoy an American classic.
Dallas Theater Center
Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre
2400 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through April 14th
Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 2:00 & 8:00pm, and Sunday at 2:00 & 7:30pm
Tickets range $15.00 to $116.00.
Tix can be purchased online at www.DallasTheaterCenter.org
Or by phone at (214) 880-0202.