Bill Gale reviews 'The Odd Couple' at Trinity Rep
Providence, RI – The play and the eventual film and TV series also helped make the careers of a number of our best comedic actors-Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Tony Randall, Jack Klugman.
So, the question is does "The Odd Couple" hold up after 45 years? Is it worthy of a revival by a major resident theater? The answer, alas, is not really.
At the Trinity Repertory Company they have brought out their A-list actors, directed by artistic leader Curt Columbus. One of the very top stage and television designers, Eugene Lee, has done the set. The revival is spread large across the upstairs theater.
But despite some funny moments, some touching ones, too, "The Odd Couple" in 2010 looks a little shop-worn, bedraggled even. This production has some serious miscasting, and lacks fluent direction and a feel for the times, for the days of 1965 when the Vietnam war controversy was heating up and the women's movement looking for high gear.
"The Odd Couple" then is a period piece and its times have not been evoked at Trinity. Which is not to say that this comedy is not funny. No modern playwright has been better than Simon at not only pointing out the incongruity of daily life but turning the famous "Odd Couple" poker game as the boys play out another Friday night.
But despite such male bonding buoyancy, this "Odd Couple" misses some marks. That sterling actor, Brian McEleney, seems simply miscast as Felix Unger, the prim, perfectly turned out, perfectly, well, perfect nut who moves in with his old pal, Oscar Madison, as both struggle with the rigors of divorce.
Rigid and tight-eyed, McEleney seems not to have realized that despite Felix's suffering, his character is essentially comedic, someone to giggle at and with. This Felix hasn't got that underlying absurdity that's needed. McEleney seems to strive for more depth and despair than was ever called for by playwright Simon.
As Oscar, Fred Sullivan Jr. races about, destroying bowls of pasta, failing to make child support payments, and generally tearing up the pea patch. Sullivan has all the moves right but just misses the underlying shaggy charm the role needs.
As the poker playing guys, Trinity's other leading actors haven't really found the mark. You wonder if they've ever actually sat through a night of cigars and booze and cards.
Things do pick up considerably when the girls arrive.
You may remember the ever- so English, ever-so-charming -- and ditzy -- Pigeon Sisters. They invade Oscar's apartment, not to mention his fantasies, and provide a turning point for "The Odd Couple."
Here they are, portrayed irrepressibly by Phyllis Kay and Nance Williamson, in all their batty glory.
Moments like that are enough to keep this revival going. You will find moments of laughter, moments of recollection of the way we were.
But, in general, "The Odd Couple" with its narrow suits and seamed stockings, its pre-rock n roll music, seems an unnatural, even a quaint fit for a theater like the Trinity Repertory Company.
It really belongs back in the minor leagues where one-line zingers are good enough.
"The Odd Couple" continues at Trinity Rep through May 9. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for WRNI.