"ODD COUPLE" REVIVED IN IVORYTON

By Tom Holehan

    One of Neil Simon's most popular and beloved comedies, "The Odd Couple", is on the boards of the Ivoryton Playhouse in a middling revival that proves even in lesser productions, Mr. Simon's comic genius can still shine.  We may have seen better renderings of this evergreen classic, but for the time being the offering at Ivoryton will have to suffice.  It is also good news that the producers have chosen the original 1960 script and not Simon's recently re-written (and ill advised) update.   

    The story of an unlikely "marriage" between sloppy, divorced Oscar Madison and anal-retentive neatnik Felix Unger is a most familiar one but that doesn't mean it's a cakewalk for actors.   The chemistry between the two opposites has to work.  We have to believe these two desperate and lonely men would actually agree to room with each other in order for us to accept the premise.  At Ivoryton, R. Bruce Connelly as Felix and Tony Rossi as Oscar aren't always convincing, but they are also perfectly acceptable and Mr. Connelly may be a tad more than that.  His Felix seems to come from a more honest, more humane and less jokey text than his counterpart and the play definitely improves as it goes along with both actors improving on the give and take between them.
  
    Under the limp direction of Lawrence Thelen, however, the comedy does get off to a very rocky start with an ill-timed and far too leisurely paced poker playing sequence. The quartet of actors playing Oscar's buddies are all enacted as broad stereotypes from the henpecked Vinnie (M. Carl Kaufman) to the effeminate Murray (Al Mulvey).  There are plenty of funny lines, here, but most are squandered, forced and eventually lost among amateur theatrics and overacting.  

     Only with the appearance of Oscar's British upstairs neighbors, the Pigeon sisters, does this "Odd Couple" truly obtain its footing.  Laura Beth Wells and Eleanor Handley burst onto the scene with energy and purpose and the performances are rich with character, laughter and heart.   Both women perform minor miracles and ultimately bring out the best in Connelly and Rossi.

    Daniel Nischan's set design offers an impressive NYC apartment for Oscar but misses the opportunity for a true transformation of the space after Felix moves in.  Removing the dirty laundry, fluffing the pillows and straightening the wall paintings doesn't really cut it.  C. Delari Johnston, however, has provided appropriate costuming throughout hitting the bulls-eye with the Pigeon sisters' brightly colored '60s frocks.

    This "Odd Couple" proves a far from perfect production, but on these final hazy days of summer you could do worse.

    "The Odd Couple" continues at the Ivoryton Playhouse through August 30th.  For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 860.767.7318 or visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.


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