The Odd Couple, by celebrated playwright Neil Simon, certainly has the clout of name recognition. It has been produced on Broadway, and adapted for film and television. The two odd characters in the couple, Oscar and Felix, have enjoyed a long life through the assorted derivations of Simon’s work. DIJO Productions revived The Odd Couple at the Plaza Playhouse in Carpenteria this month, featuring Ed Giron as Felix and William Waxman as Oscar.
DIJO aimed to produce this piece with the intelligent flair true to Neil Simon’s fast-paced, New-York-in-the-sixties style, though uneasiness with Simon’s hasty banter generated bumpy moments of linguistic faltering. DIJO’s production gave a clear nod to the 1960s versions of The Odd Couple, producing a time capsule on stage that put Oscar and Felix, the roommates with opposite levels of affability and tidiness, into a historical context memorable to older audience members and illustrative to younger audience members.
DIJO’s version of The Odd Couple offered dark undercurrents in a play billed as a comedy. Felix (Giron) is thrown out by his wife, and wanders the streets threatening suicide. He makes it to Oscar’s (Waxman) apartment for the weekly poker game with his friends (Frank Artusio, Gene Garcia, Stuart Orenstein, and Van Riker), where his dramatic, passive aggressive behavior is confronted with a variety of reactions from the poker crowd. Every actor on stage had a different type and degree of concern for Felix’s depressive desperation, which made the tone of the play difficult to decipher.
Giron, who played Felix’s depression as a real, if somewhat melodramatic, struggle, and his subsequent habits toward cleanliness as truly obsessive and compulsive, was playing against Waxman’s glib take on Oscar. The Odd Couple aimed for true comedy, but was too frequently derailed by the valid struggles of these depressed characters, each dealing with their divorces in different, but equally unhealthy manners, and the play sometimes oscillated into unrealized dark comedy. The Pigeon sisters (Ming Holden and Michele Minor) were the most consistent of the performers, and added necessary moments of well-paced comedic relief, and set a strong comedic mood that permeated the space and led the other characters in an undeviating direction.
Pacing is important in any play, but especially in a Neil Simon play, in which much of the humor lives in the rapid dialogue and snarky wit. Conversations move these stories forward based on intensifying emotional levels in dialogue, even in the case when those discussions are turning in circles. It’s equally important to consider pacing for technical aspects of the show. The transitions between scenes in this production were needlessly long. Rather than having one overburdened stagehand clean Oscar’s trash in blackout, actors could have been utilized — nothing is lost by allowing the audience to watch Felix cleaning the apartment in transitional half-light. This type of “montage” could show the development of Oscar and Felix’s relationship after they move together in only a few moments.
While the cast was not on a consistent dramatic wavelength, The Odd Couple had moments of humor and poignancy. It’s encouraging to see that Neil Simon’s plays remain popular, although rooting the production in its originally intended era does little to present the concepts as timeless. However, the show was an honest homage to a bygone decade, and reliving history to be reminded of our evolving cultural sensitivities is an interesting experience for any viewer.