There is something comfortable and yet very icky when the audience enters The Milburn Stone Theater for their current production, The Odd Couple, by American theatrical legend, Neil Simon. For those of us who are familiar with this comic classic, seeing the disheveled furniture almost covered with discarded newspapers and partially consumed food dishes makes us smile for we can anticipate what is coming. For those uncertain what to expect from this story, the setting states clearly that at least one member of this “couple” is a SLOB.
While the downstage is set and lighted pre-show, it is when the curtain rises that true appreciation for this New York City apartment is revealed. The NYC skyline is prominent and well lit throughout; the multiple doors and arches support the various seen and unseen areas; and the most considerate decision made by director, Marshall B Garrett, was to use the proscenium curtains to “control the space” and to provide the slightly claustrophobic sense of the NYC apartment scene. Congratulations, Mr. Garrett, for recognizing that even in the 1960s NYC did not abound with 40 foot rooms–especially those that could be rented by a divorced sports writer!
Bringing the curtain up reveals a group of 1960s characters sitting around this very apartment smoking and making crass comments to each other at their weekly poker game. The use of a rectangular table was unusual since most card games are played at round tables. Doing this kept the dealing and movements a little awkward but nothing that detracted from the situational and physical humor that is such a part of this Neil Simon delight. Due to recent legislation it was surprising to encounter the cigar and cigarette smoke but also relieving that the facilities at Milburn Stone removed any potential smoke discomfort at least from this reviewer’s perspective. I was seated close to the stage and have smoke allergies but I was not uncomfortable at any time during this production.
Besides the omnipresent smoking, revisiting the 1960s came easily as the first lines spoken reference the western, Maverick, one of my personal favorites from that period. The friends ensemble of Murray, Speed, Roy and Vinnie (played respectively by Michael Collins, Russell Matthews, Debra McGuire and Ryan Milliner) did very good work to convey their idiosyncratic personalities. The decision to keep this talented group around the table so much led to some blocking issues and lost lines. The split stage set provided a variety of multi-leveled blocking possibilities. Instead Garrett kept this production rather linear using the length of the stage as opposed to taking full advantage of the more-than-adequately-created stage depth to present his stage pictures.
The crux of this story is the relationship between Oscar Madison, played by Dane Hutchinson and Felix Unger, played by Chris Barsam. Both Hutchinson and Barsam are to be commended for the spirit and energy with which they imbued their characters. While both of them seemed to “grow” into the characters as the play unfolded, their relationship is solid and believable from start to finish. The interactions with their fellow poker players are fun and lively, while the discomfort exhibited by Felix while bookended on the sofa by the Pigeon sisters was palpable. Portraying the nonsensical British Pigeon sisters in a play overwhelmed with testosterone is difficult. Both Katelin Dunn and Grayson Wrigley do their best to understand these women and the times they were in. The flirty behavior on the sofa with Felix was funny in contemporary terms; however, it was not appropriate for the 1960s.
Overall, the work done by costumer, Leila Briggs, supported the period decision with great hats and basic men’s wear. = The Pigeon sisters were charmingly attired in their no-natural-fiber dresses and their short capelets so representative of the time.
The investigation, hard work and enjoyment of this cast and crew were apparent throughout this American buddy-play classic, and the audience on opening night was very appreciative. Their laughter came easily and was prolonged in exactly those places where Simon wrote it to be. A thoroughly enjoyable evening at the Milburn Stone!
THE ODD COUPLE
by Neil Simon
Directed by Marshall B. Garrett
March 11-20, 2011
Milburn Stone Theatre
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD