Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Odd Couple

‘ODD COUPLE’ delights at Porthouse!

Neil Simon, author of ‘THE ODD COUPLE,’ which is now on stage at Porthouse Theatre, is known as the Crown Prince of Broadway Comedies. He authored 33 shows that appeared on the Great White way, with the first, ‘COME BLOW YOUR HORN,’ opening in 1961. Since then, he has garnered seventeen Tony nominations and won three. He won the Pulitzer Prize for ‘LOST IN YONKERS.’

Historically, Simon set a record in 1966 when he had four shows running on Broadway at the same time: ‘SWEET CHARITY,’ ‘THE STAR-SPANGLED GIRL,’ ‘THE ODD COUPLE,’ and ‘BAREFOOT IN THE PARK.’

‘THE ODD COUPLE’ was not only a Broadway hit, but became a successful film, television series, and animated cartoon. There was also a female version of the script.
The plot concerns two mismatched adult male roommates, one neat and uptight (Felix), the other more easygoing but slovenly (Oscar).

The original show, directed by Mike Nichols, ran for 966 performances and won several Tony Awards, including Best Play.

Well known stars who have been seen in the various versions include Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemon, Martin Short, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Art Carney, Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno.

The success of the play is also one of the weaknesses of putting it on a theatre’s production schedule. Because of its popularity, it has been done extensively by summer stock, community theatres and educational institutions. It’s been staged to death. In the last several months, for example, it’s been performed at least three times in the Cleveland area.
So are audience’s tired of the show? From the reaction of the opening night assemblage at Porthouse, the answer must be no. Well, it may be yes, but the Porthouse production, under the adept direction of Rohn Thomas, and a stellar cast, could make a staged reading of the telephone book appealing.

Thomas pulls out all the stops. He combines the comedy lines with farce shticks, making the production hilarious. There are the Keystone cops, Abbott and Costello, and the Marx Brothers rolled into one. Think of the speed and exaggeration of British farce complete with door slamming, a chaotic race through multiple swinging doors, a plate of spaghetti (excuse me, linguini) splattering on a wall, and over done angst, and you have a picture of the goings on.
This is one of the best productions of the script I’ve ever seen, and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of them.

Eric van Baars is nothing short of hysterical as Felix, the up-tight, hypochondriacal, drama queen. It’s not only fun to watch him in action, but since he is on the theatre faculty at Kent State, and many of his students were present on opening night, it was a hoot to see his cherubs, watching their mentor appropriately making a total fool of himself.

John Woodson gives his own take to the role of slovenly Oscar. He doesn’t overdo it the way that others have. His underplay makes van Baars’ out-of-control Felix even funnier.

Elizabeth Ann Townsend and Katherine Burke are delightful as the Pigeon sisters, the odd couple’s British neighbors. Their squealing, laughing and feigning were right on target.
The rest of the cast, Paul Floriano (Speed), Chuck Richie (Murray), Tony Zanoni (Roy), and Arthur Wise (Vinnie) are all character right. Richie displays wonderful comic timing.
Things went so well on opening night that even the set changing crew got applause on their exits.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘THE ODD COUPLE’ has been performed and performed, but few, if any of those productions, compares to the wonderful version appearing on the Porthouse stage. If you want to laugh and laugh a summer evening away, get thee to the theatre on the grounds of Blossom.