"The Odd Couple" a night of non-stop laughs
By Jim Sulzer
Contributing Writer Neil Simon’s ‘The Odd Couple’ burst onto Broadway in the mid-1960s with its wildly entertaining tale of two recently-divorced dads, the slovenly Oscar and the fastidious Felix. The play cemented Simon’s place as one of our greatest comic playwrights, garnering a Tony award and spawning a movie and popular TV series.
In 1985, Simon penned a new version of the play with female leads, conceived along similar lines, with names that echo the original: the slapdash Olive and the meticulous Florence. Rewrites such as this often don’t work – they can seem stale and derivative – but happily, Simon’s writing in the new version is equal to the original, and in some scenes is superior. Theatre Workshop of Nantucket has wisely chosen t o perform this version, and its new production is terrific, generating non-stop laughs and some moments of outright hilarity. The acting by the female leads and supporting cast is consistently strong, the direction by artistic director Justin Cerne is adroit, and the result is another must-see show for TWN.
Perhaps the most appealing quality of this production is that the characters come to vivid life, bumping into each other at their tension points in ways both touching and (more frequently) side-splitting.
Olive Madison (played by Sarah Fraunfelder) is a lonely single woman who takes in her friend Florence Ungar (played by Aleisha Force) when Florence’s marriage hits the rocks. Both actresses make the most of the comic potential of their roles. Fraunfelder draws the audience into immediate empathy with Olive’s emotions through her colorful tones of voice and facial expressions. Her keen comic timing is the spark that ignites the laughter at Simon’s cleverly-constructed lines.
From left, Sarah Fraunfelder, Aleisha Force, Felicity Seidel and Ellie Gottwald in Theatre Workshop of Nantucket's season-opening production of "The Odd Couple," on stage at Bennett Hall through June 18. Photo by Nicole Harnishfeger
Force gives us the highstrung Florence with pain and gusto, using rigid body language and speech patterns to convey a character who responds to emotional anguish by shutting down everything: everything, that is, except her obsessive need to clean. Memorable comic moments ensue, including a wonderful choreographed cleaning interlude done to the accompaniment of the song, "Housework."
Both characters face challenges greater than reconciling their differing approaches to serving food and tidying up. In addition to easing her loneliness, Olive needs to find the strength to resist the entreaties of her mooching exhusband for cash handouts. Florence needs to rediscover her lost sense of self-esteem and get herself back on track before her kids (who know nothing of the impending divorce) return from summer camp.
Set in 1986, the play opens with, and often returns to, a game of Trivial Pursuit, which was all the rage at the time. The four supporting female roles add humor and vigor to these playful scenes, which feature some fine examples of Simon’s famed repartée. Casey Boukus does a convincing job as a worldlywise, matter-of-fact cop, Mickey; Ellie Cornell presents the lively, earthy Sylvie; Felicity Seidel plays an effervescent Renee ; and Mary Patricia Seidel adds comic relief with the slow ! and highly literal Vera. The interplay of these four characters creates a sense of community and also gives the audience a context for understanding the changes in the two main characters as the story moves forward.
From left, Adam Sodofsky, Aleisha Force, and Chris Costa in Theatre Workshop of Nantucket's season-opening production of "The Odd Couple," on stage at Bennett Hall through June 18. Photo by Laurie Richards, Pixel Perfect
The comic highlight of the play – and Simon’s best comic writing – comes with the appearance of the two Spanish brothers, Manolo and Jesus, played with endearing charm and infectious enjoyment by Adam Sodofsky and Chris Costa.
In this section, Simon showcases his virtuosic ability to use language – and the misuse of language – to create classic comic moments. The playwright finds abundant opportunities for comedy in cultural misunderstandings (for instance, the use of nicknames) and in malapropisms that are caught somewhere between Spanish and English (for instance,"nougat" and "no good"). With the ease of a true craftsman, S imon weaves and reweaves a web of brilliant comedy in this scene.
But such comedy only works when a good cast is able to make it work in the flesh, and the interplay of the two brothers and the two leads in this production is priceless.
The attractive, 1980s-style apartment set was designed by Peter Waldron. The lighting is by Sandra Galley, with costumes and props by Emma Ford and sound by Kaitlyn Burke. Keri Ryan is the stage manager, with assistance from Ashley Twiggs and Lindsay Jacobson.
"The Odd Couple,"Wednesday through Sunday through June 18, Bennett Hall, 62 Centre St. Tickets, $37 for adults and $33 for seniors, can be purchased by calling the box office at (508) 2284305 or by visiting www.theatreworkshop. com. Check website for exact times.
Courtesy of the Inquirer and Mirror - ack.net