Encore Michigan

‘Odd Couple’ is neat at The Riverbank

Review September 11, 2023 Paula Bradley

MARINE CITY, MI–The Riverbank Theatre in Marine City is performing the classic Neil Simon play The Odd Couple.  After premiering on Broadway in 1965, the show has been adapted as a film, TV sitcoms, and revised for a female cast. But here we have the original script that was performed by Walter Matthau and Art Carney.

D.B. Schroeder directs the comedy, which centers around the recently divorced Oscar (Tim Pollack), newly separated Felix (Joseph Sfair), and their weekly poker buddies: Speed (D.B. Schroeder), Murray (Adam Sanborn,) Roy (Jacob Stoliker), and Vinnie (Chase LePla). 

Sports writer Oscar has been divorced for several months, but remains relatively comfortable in his large but extremely cluttered apartment where he hosts a poker game every week with his pals.  One week, they find out that their friend Felix’s wife has just asked him for a divorce; Felix, normally meticulous and fastidiously neat, arrives in a suicidal and distraught state, feeling like his life is out of his control.  Oscar offers to have Felix move in with him, which seems like the perfect arrangement.

Felix immediately begins cleaning and organizing the apartment, executing strange routines to address his myriad hypochondriac symptoms, planning and preparing elaborate home-cooked meals, even changing the dynamic of the weekly poker game, and generally driving Oscar up a wall.  The situation comes to a head when Oscar plans a double date for them, inviting a pair of English sisters (Jessica Boehmer, Luciana Piazza) from their building to come over for dinner.  When Felix suffers an emotional meltdown in front of the sisters over his divorce, the ladies immediately become enamored, ruining any chance of romance for Oscar.

Oscar loses his temper and kicks Felix out of the apartment, but when Felix actually agrees to leave, they both begin to realize that the effects they have had on each other were not all negative.

Schroeder directs a very solid cast, and manages to perform his own role nicely while directing the whole production, which is no mean feat. One funny early scene that really highlighted their individual personality quirks is when the poker friends’ react to Felix’s initial arrival, trying to play it cool while simultaneously panicking that Felix will attempt to kill himself. Pollack as Oscar and Sfair as Felix have an interesting and believable rapport throughout the show, bickering like an old married couple while also trying to make a go of their atypical arrangement.  The giggling Pigeon sisters, while only making short appearances on stage, injected a silly humor that contrasted the other characters nicely.

The Odd Couple these days often feels dated to the time it was written in the 1960s. References to how much things cost–like the rent on the enormous apartment and price of a roast–root the show in the time of the Johnson Administration. But it also remains fresh when handled right as it focuses on the pain of relationships (Felix’s marriage) ending, and new beginnings as with the bumpy beginning of Felix and Oscar’s relationship as roommates. Loss, redemption, friction, love, friendship are themes that never go out of style, especially in the hands of a writer the caliber of Simon.

An interesting detail that plays out throughout the show is the manner in which Felix actually cleans up the clutter on the set.  It is not all undertaken immediately, as one might predict a neat-freak would do.  Instead, just as Oscar’s and Felix’s oppositional personalities don’t immediately have a drastic effect on each other, some detritus remains and a picture hangs crookedly (even as they are awaiting the arrival of the sisters).  Rather, over the course of the weeks they live together, they each gradually learn things from the other, things that they were unable to learn during their respective marriages.  By the time of the final curtain, the set is tidy, and Oscar and Felix are able to tolerate—appreciate—the other, despite their differences.

The Odd Couple always appeals to a wide variety of audiences.  The humor and language won’t scandalize teens, but leave the young kids at home.  The show runs at The Riverbank through October 8, 2023.   For tickets and info, see https://thumbcoasttheaters.com/.