THE ODD COUPLE
By Neil Simon
Garland Civic Theatre
Producer/Set Decorator-David Tinney
Costumes/Stage Manager-Kerra Sims
Set Design/Light Design-Theresa Clapper
Light and Sound Board Operator-Brandon Wilson
Backstage Crew-Lydia Sims, Elizabeth Pellett
Oscar Madison—Juan M. Perez
Felix Unger—Russell Sims
Cecily Pigeon—Hannah Bartholomew
Gwendolyn Pigeon-Kerra Sims
Reviewed Performance: 10/29/2021
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Nothing gives me more of a satisfied feeling than knowing that audiences are finally able to return to live theatre, and Friday night was no different. Produced by the Garland Civic Theatre, The Odd Couple is classic American theatre at its finest. Audiences have seen The Odd Couple in many different incarnations though the years. From the 1968 film (based on the stage play) starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, to an adapted 1970’s sitcom starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, which ran for five seasons on ABC and even a version adapted by Simon in 1985 featuring a pair of female roommates Florence and Olive. There was even a short-lived modern sitcom adaptation in 2015 starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon. Whatever the medium, the formula that Simon created still works, and continues to be successful 56 years later.
One of Neil Simons’ best, The Odd Couple has entertained audiences since 1965, and still continues to be a perennial favorite among theatre companies and audiences. The witty dialogue and comedy of Mr. Simon, plus, the wonderfully successful formula of “order and disorder,” and opposite, clashing personalities makes for memorable characters and guaranteed laughs at the theatre. The story starts out in the middle of a poker game in the messy and recently divorced sportswriter Oscar Madison’s apartment. Their weekly Friday night poker game is different this week, as friend, Felix Unger, is missing. As pals Vinnie, Roy, Murray, and Speed attempt to draw conclusions on Felix’s whereabouts, Oscar receives a call from Felix’s wife, informing him that she has thrown him out. Felix, despondent and depressed, wanders through New York City contemplating suicide. He ends up at Oscar’s apartment and is offered a (presumably temporary) place to stay. From Felix’s tendencies at being overly neat, to Oscar’s sloppy and messy habits, and even an attempt at a double date with Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon moment after hilarious moment unfolds in the between Oscar and Felix.
Director Anthony Pound was successfully able to bring this ensemble cast together. I was instantly transformed to the mid 1960’s, and to the apartment of Oscar Madison. From the moment I entered the theatre, I felt as if I was in the studio audience of an old sitcom. Television theme songs from the era were playing as audiences found their seats furthering the suggestion of a “live studio audience.” It was fun to identify and remember some of the fun television theme songs from the era of the “great American sitcom.” Additionally, the use of the theme song from “The Odd Couple,” to underscore transitions was a nice touch. Sets and Lighting was designed by Theresa Clapper. Details from the set design were fantastic. Clapper was really able to capture the time period of the mid 1960’s. From the minute details (such as 1960’s Beer cans and Coke Bottles) to the overall functionality of the set. It was designed and set up perfectly for an intimate space such as this one at the Granville Arts Center. Clapper aptly designs the large eight room Manhattan apartment of Oscar Madison and provides appropriate lighting for each scene and mood. The lighting was lively, complimented each scene in the production. In a play such as this, there is little that can be done to “knock the socks off” audiences with lighting, but the lighting and the set design worked well for the needs of this production and set the mood for the setting and atmosphere of the story.
Costumes were designed by Kerra Sims. Sims designed costumes that were not only very appropriate to the time period but were colorful and lively. I am speaking mostly of the mod 1960’s style of Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon- straight out of Manchester, England. The 1960’s are one of my favorite times for fashion. From the wild and bright colors to the intricate geometric and psychedelic designs. If any character or characters in this production were a standout with their wardrobe, it was definitely the Pigeon Sisters. Sims did a wonderful job of bringing a bit of femininity to a male dominated story and made Gwendolyn and Cecily pop on stage with their mod and fashionable wardrobe. While the overall production was enjoyable to watch, there were a few things that must be mentioned. This performance was the opening night of “The Odd Couple,” however, it felt as if the performance was the final dress rehearsal. Transitions were long and somewhat awkward, leaving the audience sitting in the dark for long amounts of time while the crew reset some of the scenes. This is a slippery slope, as props must be reset for the next scene, but a production also does not want to take the audience out of the moment.
In any play written by Neil Simon, dialogue is extremely important. There is often witty banter that flies back and forth between the characters in the story. If a Simon script isn’t performed at top-speed, the jokes and rejoinders, and cracks and pratfalls will fall flat. In Friday’s performance, lines were dropped, and characters were called by different names. I might attribute this to opening night nerves and performing for an audience for the first time. I am confident that as the production run gets underway, these issues will ultimately melt away. Unfortunately, they are noticeable in a Neil Simon production, and were very obvious at the Friday evening performance.
Another item worth noting is the volume and projection of some of the actors. It was difficult to hear dialogue at times. I had to listen very intently to make sure I got all of the details and information that I needed to understand the details of the plot. Be prepared to acclimate for a low or lack of volume. Russell Sims as Felix Unger and Juan M. Perez as Oscar Madison have exceptional chemistry, especially when showing the uncertainty that both feel after the failure of their respective marriages. The disorganization which represents Oscar’s life is put back together with Felix’s controlled behavior. The sympathy Felix feels for his ex-wife about how he is impossible to live with leads to some emotional yet funny exchanges between Oscar and Felix.
The supporting cast of Connor Stewart (Speed), Sam Carmichael (Vinnie), Thomas Grail (Murray), and Kris Kriofske (Roy) as the poker buddies show a wide variety of emotion to accentuate the positive traits Felix and Oscar show. Thomas Grail in the role of Murray- does a wonderful job as the cop who provided the political incorrectness that every group of friends enjoys. All members of the ensemble work well together and provide the much-needed foils to the opposites of Felix and Oscar.
Gwendolyn Pigeon (Kerra Sims) and Cecily Pigeon (Hannah Bartholomew) add much enjoyment to the stage as the upstairs neighbors. Throughout the time spent with Felix, both ladies find appreciation for his kind and sensitive side while maintaining humor and grace. Felix’s initial oblivion to the flirtation presented by Gwendolyn and Cecily is one reason this production delivers-even when produced over 50 years later.
This production of The Odd Couple is worth seeing. If anything, Neil Simon is the classic American playwright-and one that everyone should see at one time or another. The content is still as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. The Odd Couple at Garland Civic Theatre is an entertaining production of a warm, affectionate, funny play that still has things to say about male friendship.
Garland Civic Theatre
Granville Arts Center, 300 N. 5th Street, Garland, Texas 75040
Plays through November 7.
Friday, November 6, 7:30 pm.
Saturday, November 6, 7:30 pm.
Sunday, November 7 at 2:30 pm.
Tickets are $20.00.
To purchase tickets, visit http://www.garlandcivic.org.