CENTERVILLE — Neil Simon has long been considered a master playwright, with many highly successful Broadway shows and numerous film scripts to his credit. One of the most famous of these is The Odd Couple, a highly successful and long running comedy about two recently divorced friends who end up living together. It had a very successful run on Broadway in the 1960’s, was made into a film, and later into a hit TV show. It is probably the best known of Simon’s works and a staple for community theaters, and one of my favorite plays. The current production at Centerpoint Legacy Theater’s Leishman Performance Hall, however, falls just short of the mark.
Director Eric Jensen has assembled a fine group of actors for this production, and they do a fine job, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Rusty Bringhurst plays slovenly sports writer Oscar Madison, and Bringhurst has created an engaging character. He is everyone’s friend and the life of the party. Bringhurst has an easy-going charm as Oscar that works well, particularly in the scene with the Pigeon Sisters. The interaction between his character and the women creates some of the best humor of the evening. The two Pigeon Sisters—Katie Plott as Cecily and Sunny Bringhurst as Gwendolyn—were the true highlight of the show because of their energy, which revitalized every scene they were in. Plott and Sunny Bringhurst were particularly fun to watch while interacting with Felix. Mark Green as Vinnie, of the poker playing friends, was also a joy to watch. His unassuming quiet character, especially in the opening scene, added greatly to the humor of the show.
Patrick Harris as Felix Unger was a bit of a paradox for me, however. His abilities at comic timing were very good. His scenes with Oscar, the second act fight for instance, were very well played, but I never got the sense of the Felix I expected. Felix is a more uptight, obsessive compulsive, staid character that was given in this performance. It’s not that Harris’s performance was poor; it just was didn’t feel right. Felix seemed too goofy, too normal to really bring out the humor. Even in his eccentricities he was too regular a guy to create the fury that Oscar launches at him in the second act.
The problem with this production is the lack of depth. Now, I know that when I go to see Neil Simon I’m not going to get Chekov, but Simon does put a lot of depth into all his characters in his plays. Each character is there for a reason. I felt that the majority of the supporting cast, although well-acted, lacked the depth and motivation to raise their characters above something taken from Saturday Night Live. I think that falls on the shoulders of the director. Eric Jensen does comedy well. (Look to the success of Off Broadway Theater Company for an example of that.) But this production did little but skim the surface of Simon’s script. I got a glimpse of what I would have liked the whole show to be right at the end. There was a moment when Oscar and Felix realize the impact that they have had on each other over the few weeks of living together that was really powerful. But the majority of the play lacked that connection with the characters and the situation. Jensen also seemed to favor added bits of stage business: a bit with Felix being hit in the forehead repeatedly with a ladle and a bit with the Pigeon Sisters and the front door. If the functioning door of your set sounds like a closet door, and not a sturdy front door, don’t keep having your actors open and close the door.
Costume design by Jennie Richardson was excellent, setting each character apart and helping to define the setting. Light and sound design by Jay Clark also helped to set the time period with wonderful period instrumental music. The set, constructed by Brian Hahn, Connor Hahn, Jan Davis, and Robert Gibson was serviceable, but provided a minor frustration with the door, as stated above.
There is a lot to like about this production of The Odd Couple. Rusty Bringhurst and Patrick Harris work well together and do find a lot of humor in this script. I just wish more of the humor had struck home and there had been a bit more depth to the show.