Few contemporary plays can claim the pop culture power and status of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. Sure, Death of a Salesman is read by high school students, but was it made into a successful sitcom? By bringing back the original stage play of The Odd Couple as the opening show of the season, Circle Bar B has gone all in on a well-loved classic. Opening night was a rowdy, rollicking sold-out show, and the entire run promises to be great fun for audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with the tempestuous relations of Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar.
Any production of The Odd Couple is only as good as its leading men, and in Bill Egan (Felix) and Jon Koons (Oscar), this version has drawn a pair of winners. Koons in particular is outstanding as the incredibly sloppy but emotionally grounded sportswriter who allows his heartbroken poker buddy to move in with him. As the hypochondriac and neat freak Felix, Egan gives a strong performance as well, and helps the audience understand the dynamics and origins of Ungar’s multiple neuroses. Other standouts in a uniformly solid cast include Brian Harwell as the policeman Murray and Matt Cooper as the gentle and possibly weak-minded Vinnie. The evening’s most uproarious scenes involve the Pigeon sisters, Gwendolyn (Susie Couch) and Cecily (Tiffany Story).
The Odd Couple has dated somewhat, but the gaps that now show through illuminate its influences. The poker party that runs throughout the play can be seen as a reference to A Streetcar Named Desire, and the show as an extended meditation on Mitch’s observation that “poker should not be played in a house with women.” Several moments seem to anticipate the antic, slightly warped Manhattan apartment life that formed the basis for Seinfeld. Perhaps most intriguing is the question of where the play sits in relation to our evolving cultural attitudes toward homosexuality. The more direct jokes about what’s “odd” with this couple have little juice today, but the subtext may be more powerful than ever. Can two men achieve intimacy without losing their hetero heads? Take the drive up to Circle Bar B and see for yourself.