“Odd”s are you’ll love this “Couple”
CHELSEA, Mich–The age-old battle of the sexes is nothing compared to the time-honored conflict between the neats and the messies. It can end badly, as when Cain’s poorly tended vegetables pleased not God, but Abel’s well-cared-for animals did.
Or it can be the subject of one of the 20th century’s great comedies, Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple which, long after its 1965-1967 run on Broadway, has enjoyed everlasting life as a movie, a TV series, a sequel, a female version, and in subsequent revivals and regional productions. The latest of these, Lauren Mounsey’s staging at the Purple Rose Theatre, presents mismatched roommates Felix (the neat one) and Oscar (the messy) not just as mouthpieces punching up laugh lines but as actual human beings who say funny things. This makes sense, given that both main characters are writers: you may recall that Oscar is a sportswriter, but who remembers that Felix, in the original play, writes news for CBS?
It’s disconcerting at first to hear jokes in the normal flow of conversation, without much time allocated to let them sink in; after a while you get used to the rhythm, and the dialogue seems natural, but a few good lines are casualties. One of Simon’s best, the one about the green substance between two slices of bread, sped by almost unnoticed on opening night.
Humor abounds, of course, particularly as Guy Sanville, as Oscar, and David Montee, as Felix, negotiate the relationship of best friends who annoy the hell out of each other.
As a veteran director himself Sanville knows how to trust a director’s vision and is a refreshingly lower-key Oscar, resisting the temptation, if any, to bellow out gag lines. Montee plays Felix as a soft-spoken, almost Southern sounding fellow (think Sen. Lindsey Graham), but with a will as strong as Oscar’s.
Sanville, galumphing about the stage, at one point wearing only an undershirt and boxer shorts, is a sight to behold and it’s almost worth the price of admission just to hear Montee—as spiritual antecedent of today’s allergy-prone, hand-sanitizing, gluten-free house guests from Hades—trying to alleviate Felix’s sinus condition with a snort that sounds like a mallard with a deviated septum.
The couple is the heart of The Odd Couple, but this is not a two-character play. Felix and Oscar’s poker buddies–Murray (Jim Porterfield), Roy (Chris Lutkin), Speed (David Bendena) and Vinnie (Tom Whalen) open and close the proceedings, contributing wisecracks and believable funny poker-table banter. Especially choice is the way Tom Whalen preens in front of the invisible mirror on the fourth wall.
Then there are the Pigeon sisters who live upstairs, a pair of Englishwomen named, in homage to Oscar Wilde’s young ladies in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Gwendolyn and Cecily, and played, respectively, by Michelle Mountain and Rhiannon Ragland. Ragland has the more convincing British accent, but Mountain delivers the play’s dumbest question with straight-faced, wide-eyed ingenuousness for one of the shows best laughs.
Bartley H. Bauer’s split-level New York apartment provides a handsome performance area with many directions to go in. Reid G. Johnson’s lighting supplies a variety of indoor and outdoor illumination. Corey T. Collins’ costumes seem right out of 1965 and whoever is responsible for Ragland’s sky-high hairdo–a’la Marge Simpson– deserves a special shout-out.