PARK CITY — Felix, who “wears his seat belt in the drive-in movie,” is so uptight that even his hair is clenched and is a self proclaimed “neurotic nut.” Oscar gambles, burns cigar holes in the furniture, drinks like a fish and lies every chance he gets. When these two friends find themselves wifeless (because of their outlandish behaviors), the one thing they end up having in common is their living arrangement—together.
The Odd Couple is an iconic piece of American pop culture. It began as an outlandishly funny play by American playwright Neil Simon. From there it was turned into the classic movie staring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon followed by a successful TV series. To say that you’ve never seen any of the above mentioned versions would be admitting to living under a rock your entire life. But apparently that is exactly where I’ve been living because this was a first for me. So, when I found out that The Egyptian Theatre in Park City would be hosting this brilliant show straight from the Neil Simon Festival in Cedar City, I knew I had to see it.
In the ultimate portrayal of opposites, Felix and Oscar come together to fight, drive each other crazy, push buttons and ultimately learn from their friendship. Having never seen any other production, I was along for the ride for my very first time and it was thrilling.
Directed by T.J. Penrod, I was impressed with the pacing and timing of the show. I particularly found the silence and staging during Oscar’s first call with Francis to lend a fair amount of tension and build up, followed shortly after by the wonderfully choreographed scene where the friends are chasing Felix throughout the apartment. In his director’s note in the program Penrod, “We’ve all had that friend…oh, you know what friend I’m talking about. He or she drives you nuts but you can’t stay away from him. He knows just the right things to say to push your buttons and the right things to do to cause your blood pressure to rise and yet, you love him anyway. And he loves you. But alas…you also hate each other! This play is about that friend. The friend we love to hate and hate to love.” This production of The Odd Couple perfectly captures that sentiment, and I applaud Penrod for his work.
John Terry did an excellent job portraying the gruff and rough around the edges Oscar. Long before I figured out the show was set in New York and Oscar was a sportswriter, I felt like I was watching a character on Blue Bloods, the NYC-based TV series about a family of cops. The sauntering around stage, non-verbal gestures and stereotypical male machismo was wholly entertaining. In the end, he came off as a sports coach to me. A guy who pushes really hard but deep down inside loves and worries about his guys more so than he ever gets credit for.
Trent Dahlin as Felix, on the other hand, entered hesitantly and reserved. His uptight and controlled behavior was nearly painful (in a good way) to watch throughout the night. I especially loved him when he was left with the Pigeon sisters. He was so tense while sitting the chair that I worried that a wrong look would send his house of cards tumbling down. I expected him to crawl right out of his skin at any moment.
The two lead actors were amazing together and I unquestionably enjoyed myself. Terry’s outward annoyance and straining control off set Dahlin’s need to please and smothering habits. However, while the characters are very funny, the beauty of Simon is his ability to capture realism with humor. What I missed in this production was the depth to these personalities. Again, they were laugh out loud funny and played to each other remarkably well, but there should’ve been a quiet desperation to their plights. Instead of seeing a truly heartbroken man on the brink of suicide, I saw a character seeking a laugh. I suppose in a comedy, delivering the line for the laugh is the priority, but I missed the human element. Instead, I felt like I was watching stereotypical representations of what funny guys are supposed to be, rather than identifying with the outrageous humor that is often found in real life. There were moments of genuine humanity and humor though they were often found in the unspoken silences and in the use of body language rather than when the lines were being deployed for laughs.
In the end, Terry and Dahlin made me laugh not just here and there, but throughout the entire show. They were unquestionably hilarious and entertaining and I had a delightful time watching these two mismatched friends stumble through the awkwardness that is often found in friendships with those we love and love to hate.