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After premiering on Broadway in 1965, Neil Simon’s comedy “The Odd Couple” spawned movie versions, Broadway revivals, a hit TV series (with another about to launch), a female-led version (which you can see at UIndy in February), and a parade of regional theater iterations. Just up the road, Actors Theatre of Indiana offered one about a year ago (reviewed here).
ATI’s production was ably directed by Jeff Stockberger, who not only found the consistent laughs in the theatrical warhorse, but also the humanity that made us care about the people on stage.
Stockberger is also involved in the Beef & Boards’ production of “The Odd Couple” (through Feb. 8), this time starring instead of directing. Also returning are some of the supporting players from ATI’s production. But the results are very different.
The premise of this Broadway smash is simple. Neat freak Felix (the reliable Eddie Curry), tossed out by his wife, moves in with slob friend Oscar Madison (Stockberger), whose wife threw him out not so long ago. The two attempt to navigate life together and, ideally, high hilarity results.
Not the case here, where cheap laughs are solicited by Stockberger's mugging, movement often feels dictated instead of organic, and the Pigeon Sisters seem directed and cast to become nearly identical instead of delightfully individual. Many of the play’s showcase moments—including the “now it’s garbage” plate throw—feel cautiously blocked instead of spontaneous. Here's hoping more peformances help sharpen matters.
In the door-slamming farces that Beef & Boards often uses to fill its non-musical slots, overtly playing for laughs isn’t such a problem. But Neil Simon’s works require a different approach to maximize their pleasures. Sure, Simon packs his plays with solidly built one-liners. But those don't exist in a vacuum. They play best when they come from characters we care about: They are a lot funnier when they aren't underlined, bolded and italicized.