Cast prepares to play mismatched roommates in ‘The Odd Couple’

January 10, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Chris Ensweiler (left, as Felix Unger) and Charles Leggett (as Oscar Madison) act a scene from the Village Theatre production of ‘The Odd Couple.’ By John Pai/Village Theatre

The journey to portray fastidious Felix Unger and untidy Oscar Madison in Village Theatre’s “The Odd Couple” suited the actors in the lead roles.

Charles Leggett, as Oscar in the classic Neil Simon play, is the more rumpled half. Chris Ensweiler is more comfortable as the neatnik Felix.

“I’m no neat freak — I can tell you that,” Leggett said in the Village Theatre lobby about a month before “The Odd Couple” opened.

Ensweiler, meanwhile, readied to portray Oscar’s mismatched roommate.

“I’m very fastidious and organized,” Ensweiler said. “CDs are alphabetized. Clothes are arranged according to color. I certainly respond very well to that.”

“The Odd Couple” opens to audiences at the downtown Issaquah playhouse Jan. 18.

Village Theatre presents a single play each season. “The Odd Couple” falls into the 2011-12 season lineup after the Wild West spectacle “Annie Get Your Gun” and before the original musical “It Shoulda Been You.”

Ensweiler and Leggett step into roles immortalized by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in the acclaimed film adaptation and by Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in the ABC sitcom.

The actors in the Village Theatre staging said the past adaptations influence the play, but audiences should expect a unique perspective.

“One of the best lessons I’ve learned this profession is to only worry about that which you can control — which isn’t much,” Leggett said.

The actors carpool together from Seattle to Issaquah. The experience has offered additional insight into the characters.

“After six hours, seven hours of us yelling at each other and being at each other all day in rehearsal, we’re tired, our voices, and it just doesn’t feel like there’s much left to say by the time we get in the car on the way home — which is totally fine,” Ensweiler said. “But by commuting, we get to know a little bit about each other, and that’s what’s great. That just naturally translates into the rehearsal process. As we get more comfortable with each other as people, you start to see that long friendship that is the basis of Oscar and Felix’s relationship.”

If you go

‘The Odd Couple’

  • Village Theatre — Francis J. Gaudette Theatre
  • 303 Front St. N.
  • Jan. 18 to Feb. 26
  • Show times vary
  • $22 to $62
  • 392-2202 or www.villagetheatre.org

The experience also helped the actors understand more similarities and differences between themselves and the characters.

“I always tend to worry about other people instead of worrying about myself,” Ensweiler said.

The role is familiar territory for Leggett, because the actor played Oscar in a high school production.

“I think he’s always moving forward and always on the go and always ready to get to the next thing,” he said.

The actor-director Jeff Steitzer is directing “The Odd Couple” after serving as the understudy for Tony Award-winning actor Brian Dennehy for “Inherit the Wind” on Broadway. Steitzer is also a prolific voiceover artist known for work in the “Halo” series.

The comedy includes familiar faces from past Village Theatre productions. Eric Polani Jensen from “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Take Me America” appears as poker buddy Murray; John X. Deveney from “The Full Monty” is mild-mannered Vinnie; and Matt Wolfe from “42nd Street” and “Chasing Nicolette” is sarcastic and snide Speed.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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