‘The Odd Couple’ is fresh, funny at Village Theatre

January 24, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Felix Ungar (Chris Ensweiler, front) receives a massage from mismatched roommate Oscar Madison (Charles Leggett) in Village Theatre’s ‘The Odd Couple.’ By John Pai/Village Theatre

Neil Simon is a regular at Village Theatre.

The playwright — gilded in Tony Awards aplenty and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama — often offers rich material to Village Theatre producers. In the past decade, the downtown Issaquah theater presented “Barefoot in the Park” and “Lost in Yonkers” to audiences. The latest Simon offering on stage is “The Odd Couple” — perhaps the most recognizable piece in the playwright’s oeuvre.

“The Odd Couple” — re-imagined on stage and screen more often than Felix Ungar scrapes up crumbs — is a solid choice as the selection for the play in a Village Theatre season defined by musicals.

The play is a charming anachronism, 47 years after “The Odd Couple” debuted on Broadway. The boozing and smoking recall a looser era before political correctness. Still, the dialogue and the mismatched-roommate premise remain universal almost a half-century after Simon introduced audiences to uptight Felix and untidy Oscar Madison.

The opening performance — delayed due to ice and snow — did not reflect the frenzy outside, as audience members slogged on slushy streets or left darkened homes to trek to the theater.

Felix (Chris Ensweiler) and Oscar (Charles Leggett) remain as identifiable to audience members, too. Kudos to Ensweiler and Leggett for adding vibrancy to the characters and maintaining some touches audiences remember from Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in the 1968 film and, later, from Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in the ’70s sitcom.

Ensweiler cuts a trim figure as Felix, a fastidious and fragile newsman in the midst of a divorce. Leggett is a lovable louse as Oscar, a divorced sportswriter living a bachelor lifestyle in a filthy apartment.

The actors joust, but manage to convey the underlying affection between longtime friends stuck in a less-than-ideal situation.

The despondent Felix lands at Oscar’s apartment the night after wife Frances can no longer tolerate Felix’s constant scrubbing and fretting. Oscar, meanwhile, is behind on alimony to ex-wife Blanche, because money seeps into bar tabs and poker losses.

If you go

‘The Odd Couple’

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

In short order, Felix transforms the apartment from cigar burns and dust bunnies to Lysol fumes and furniture polish. Friday night poker games, once a stag ritual, transform into something more akin to a tea party after Felix sets up camp in Oscar’s apartment.

The poker crew, a rumpled bunch cut from the same cloth as Oscar, is another highlight. Eric Polani Jensen, a fixture on the Village Theatre stage, continues to create memorable impressions, regardless of a role’s prominence. In “The Odd Couple” he is Murray, a New York City police officer and occasional source of much-needed perspective. John X. Deveney, Roger Welch and Matt Wolfe also shine.

The most humorous bit in “The Odd Couple” stems from the stunted interaction among Felix, Oscar and the Pigeon sisters, upstairs neighbors. Betsy Schwartz and Caitlin Frances, as Cecily and Gwendolyn, stand out as the daft and saucy Pigeon sisters, a pair of expatriates from the United Kingdom.

“The Odd Couple” unfolds in a faded “Mad Men”-era apartment. The creative team deserves recognition for using small — some almost unnoticeable — details meant to recall the mid-1960s, including old-school potato chip bags and vintage-esque labels on cleaning products. The swinging ’60s soundtrack used during scene changes is another treat.

“The Odd Couple” remains fresh and relatable decades after Simon turned Felix and Oscar into archetypes for roommates everywhere.

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

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