Odd men out

An ancient theatrical relic is on display in the Plaza District under the auspices of Lyric Theatre. The historical artifact in question is a comedy from A.D. 1965 titled The Odd Couple (you may have heard of it) by a popular playwright of that era named Neil Simon (who, for the record, is still alive).

One suspects the play hails from way back in the last millennium upon seeing the set design (well-executed by Dawn Drake) and costumes (pleasingly authentic by Jeffrey Meek), but our suspicions are confirmed when in the opening scene, players at a card table are smoking cigars and cigarettes, playing quarter-ante poker and opening beer cans with a church key.

The 20th century never seemed so far away.

This isn’t a knock against director Ashley Wells. The play is so beholden to its time that it would look out of place set in 1969.

The eponymous odd couple are played by Martin Burke (the neat Felix Unger) and Jonathan Beck Reed (the sloppy Oscar Madison).

They become accidental roommates when Felix splits with his wife and bunks with Oscar, who’s conveniently divorced. Both hold what seem like glamourous jobs, even by today’s standards: Oscar is the highest-paid sportswriter on the East Coast, and Felix writes the news for CBS, which also explains how they can afford an eight-room Riverside Drive apartment in New York City.

The production features a fine supporting cast. Rodney Brazil, Matthew Alvin Brown, Michael Page and Brian Stockton (not exactly a bunch of pikers, these actors) play the poker pals and bitching buddies. Jennifer Teel and Lexi Windsor are the British Pigeon sisters (like the cuckoo, not the actor Walter, they say), Cecily and Gwendolyn.

One cannot fault the cast for the tepidness of this production. Oscar maintains the appropriate level of boorishness, Felix achieves the right degree of fastidiousness and the Pigeon sisters drop in with spot-on giddiness.

What,
if anything, Wells could have done to make this play look fresh is
beyond me. It’s hard to plumb new depths in a script that’s an inch
deep.

It’s surprising that Lyric would opt to stage this particular Simon play. The playwright’s Brighton Beach trilogy would be a much more satisfying choice for the Plaza Theatre.

In a curtain speech before the reviewed performance, Lyric artistic director Michael Baron said that people think The Odd Couple is just about a slob and a neatnik who live together, but it’s about more than that. Well, it’s about slightly more than that.

The
moral of the play is that true friendship is knowing when and how to
tell off your best pal when you think he needs telling off for his own
good. Alright; those of us who’ve been known to do some telling off on
occasion have no argument with that.

For
devotees of 1960s trivia, this play is a gold mine. Product names and
contemporaneous references abound. Did you know a “key” to the Playboy
Club cost an exorbitant $25 in 1965?

Larry Laneer

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