Neil Simon’s dry wit and big heart are at their best at Theater J.
By Julie LaPorte
After being kicked out of the house by his wife, Felix Ungar moves in with his best friend Oscar Madison. Soon the clean-freak and the slob are at each other’s throats and the friendship is pushed to the breaking point. Jerry Whiddon directs Neil Simon’s well-loved classic The Odd Couple at Theater J through November 28.
This comic and unflinching look at divorce, loneliness and the importance of friendship takes place in Oscar Madison’s eight-bedroom apartment. Oscar Madison, played by Associate Artist-in-Residence Rick Foucheux, is a charming, but sloppy sports writer who barely makes ends meet. Felix Ungar, played by J. Fred Shiffman, is a neurotic, but loveable news writer whose obsession with the domestic arts drives those around him crazy. These two bring new life and their own personal stamp to this central relationship that has been made famous by the movie and television show.
“This kind of comedy is really hard to pull off,” said Foucheux. “But nothing ventured nothing gained. We’re all used to working hard, but it’s an interesting reminder of how difficult this stuff can be – ensuring that we’re making these characters fully-fledged people and not just mouthpieces for Neil Simon’s jokes.”
Shiffman agreed: “It’s been marvelous just to trust the script and to peel the layers of this man away line by line with a goal of arriving at exactly what Neil had in mind when he put pen to paper. There is a trap, a danger of saying he’s one thing – oh he’s finicky, he’s a clean-freak – no human being is any one thing. And one of the great gifts that Simon has, is that the final outcome could be adjectives like that, but there is a lot more going on. This is also a man who was surprised and wounded by a divorce he did not see coming. Just taking the journey with the cast and the director and using the script as the bible has been extremely challenging and extremely rewarding.”
Rounding out the cast are the poker buddies and the tangible dynamic they generate is testament to the hard work the actors and director have put into each scene – you really feel like these guys have known each other for years, that they are familiar with each other’s quirks and habits, that they love each other so much they could kill each other. Each man embodied a stereotype without sacrificing three-dimensionality. Paul Morella played Roy – a fussy, overanxious accountant; Marcus Kyd played Speed – an impatient, wise-cracking everyman; Michael Willis played Vinnie – a conscientious, penny-pinching husband who is well housebroken by his wife; and Delaney Williams stole all his scenes as Murray – a slow, but thoughtful cop with a big heart.
In a cast that otherwise sparkled, the performances of Lise Bruneau and Helen Pafumi fell flat as the British sisters Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon. Both are incredibly talented and capable of holding their own, but neither seemed at home in their roles and the accents were cringe worthy.
“We’re not doing anything wildly new with it,” said Foucheux. “But with everything you do, the object is to make it real, to make it flesh and blood. And I think that if we go for that and are true to that, then we’ll serve ourselves. And if we serve ourselves, we’ll serve the audience.”
For more information and for tickets, visit Theater J.
Julie LaPorte is a freelance writer living outside Washington, D.C. For the past year she has served as a columnist for Washington Life Magazine – penning reviews for the Performing Arts and the Paint the Town columns. She also works as a political marketing copywriter for candidates in local, state and national campaigns as well as for Congressional franked mail.