Brian Meegan and Steve Rodgers as felix and Oscar
The Odd Couple
By Neil Simon
Directed by Mark Kilmurry
An Ensemble Theatre Production
78 McDougall Street
Season: 22 November – 29 December. Duration: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval. Bookings: www.ensemble.com.au
Card nights were the big thing in the 60’s and 70’s. I remember my father used to go regularly on Friday nights, always at someone’s home, plenty of scotch, cigars and camaraderie. They were ‘secret men’s business’, an opportunity to let off steam, laugh and help keep your mates sane.
The card night is central in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. It’s the perfect mechanism for bringing together a myriad of New York characters where the result is an hilarious sequence of events and a subtle message about loneliness and disconnection.
The play occurs over 3 Acts in the eleventh-floor apartment of Oscar (Steve Rodgers). Recently divorced, his wife and children have moved elsewhere, leaving him in the eight room home. The breakup seems amicable as he is well-aware of his slovenly and unattractive habits – gambling, drinking, smoking and excessive spending. He also enjoys living in a complete mess.
The opening scene shows the usual group at the dining table trying to get a game of poker underway. There’s Roy (Robert Jago), Oscar’s accountant who is fast with one-liners and often lends him cash to keep him in the game; Vinnie (Nicholas Papademetriou), a good player eager to leave early with his winnings; Murray (James Lugton), a street-smart police officer with a caring heart; and Speed (Laurence Coy), brash and curt, he just wants to play poker.
The only one missing is Felix (Brian Meegan). Oscar tells the group that Felix may be feeling suicidal as his wife has just kicked him out of their house. Not wanting to let on that they know, the group are nonchalant when he arrives. However, nerves are tested each time he goes near the open window and the truth finally comes out when Felix admits he has swallowed a handful of pills in the bathroom.
Oscar has a soft spot for Felix and invites him to move in and share the rent on the apartment. Thus, the ‘odd couple’ are born!
Oscar hasn’t thought this through very well. Felix is the antithesis of Oscar in personality, style and household habits and he sets about cleaning up the apartment and Oscar’s lifestyle as well.
From this point on, it could be called ‘Clash of the Titans’. Neil Simon’s script is superb and explains why this is such a successful and popular comedy in theatre, film and television. The characters, plot and themes are completely relatable. We all know a slob like Oscar and a clean freak like Felix in our lives and probably exhibit a bit of both ourselves. I found myself laughing with ease, sometimes uncomfortably, knowing that Felix’s desire for the use of drink coasters matched mine. Some spouses in the audience may have cringed at their similarities with Oscar.
There is a very funny scene when Oscar invites two sisters from upstairs to dinner in the apartment. Gwendolyn (Katie Fitchett) and Cecily (Olivia Pigeot) are lively, outgoing girls from London. However, they soon gel with Felix as he regales positive tales about his wife. That’s not how Oscar hoped the night would end.
Mark Kilmurry as Director has injected a real sense of authenticity into this production. The talented cast perform on a detailed and spacious New York apartment set, costumes are vintage 60’s styling and sound/lighting were flawless.
As far as slobs go, I thought Oscars habits were mildly portrayed. Socks and underwear strewn around the floor, newspapers everywhere and empty beer bottles in unlikely places were the hallmarks of good slobs in my day. However, Oscars’ throwing a plate of spaghetti (sorry, linguini) at the kitchen wall was quintessential slob behaviour.
The Odd Couple is a timeless work about understanding, tolerance and adapting to others. In an era when we now ask, “Are you OK?” of those feeling low, it’s quaint to think that the card night, as portrayed in The Odd Couple might be a simple outlet for helping to address men’s mental health. Let’s revive the card night, I say!
This is a show I can thoroughly recommend. It’s a classic crowd pleaser. You will be entertained.