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Happy 'Odd Couple' Day: a review

November 13, 2013

Fans of '70s sitcom will recall that Nov. 13 is the day that Felix Ungar's wife threw him out, "requesting that he never returns."

Well, Nov. 13 is also the day that I'm telling you that "The Odd Couple," the Neil Simon play that lead to that sitcom (which included that narrated intro), is alive and well and in the very capable hands of Actors Theatre of Indiana, where it runs through Nov. 17. 

The premise of this Broadway smash is simple. Neat freak Felix, tossed out by his wife, moves in with slob friend Oscar Madison, whose wife threw him out not so long ago. The two attempt to navigate life together and high hilarity results. And I do mean high. I laughed more consistently at this production than I can recall laughing at anything in recent memory on Indiana stages.

Credit is due Simon, of course, whose plays have seemingly fallen out of favor in the theater world. (I can't think of the last one professionally produced here.) Simon's series of comedies that appeal to a wide-ranging audience lost their cachet in a world of $100+ Broadway tickets. But, as illustrated here in his best-known work, the man is a master at creating specific, very funny characters who, when smartly directed and acted, feel like they have lives both onstage and off. 

That's the case here. Oh, Bradley Reynolds' Felix may over-enunciate a bit too much for the intimate Studio Theater. And Don Farrell inherently doesn't fit the craggy Oscar familiar from TV and film. But together they deliver not only the punchlines but also the underlying affection that keeps the two from actually strangling each other. They come across as they should: As friends who drive each other crazy, not as stock characters manipulated by a writer. 

The standouts here, though, come from the supporting cast. The poker buddies, essential to getting the show off on a fun footing, are terrific. I was going to highlight Darrin Murrell as the dyspeptic Murray, but then I smiled thinking about Jeremy Grimmer's awkward Vinnie...and Adam O' Crowe's fed up Speed...and Dave Ruark's chain smoking accountant Roy. All big fun.

And then there are the Pigeon Sisters, as personified by Katy Gentry and Carrie Fedor (with the assistance of costume designer Margaret Ozemet). Unique creations, both, managing to be goofy, sensitive, oddly sexy, and, most importantly, very, very funny in their two showcase scenes. If only Simon had written a spin-off for them...

But Simon has written many more plays. And here's hoping first-time ATI director Jeff Stockberger gets to guide more of them in the near future. 

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