So, here's my question. After a life on Broadway, in the movies and on TV for five years in the mid-'70s as well as two updated sitcoms and, God help us, a cartoon, do we really need to see "The Odd Couple" on stage again?
I have to admit to asking myself that very question last week as I watched the Springs Ensemble Theatre's production of the gentle Neil Simon comedy. Even the most accomplished production, with legendary actors, a flawless set and costumes, is burdened with our collective familiarity with the thin-as-paper dynamic between Oscar Madison (the slob) and Felix Ungar (the neatnik).
"The Odd Couple" runs through June 23 at the SET.
The company's take is firmly in the box, which is something of a relief. (In 1985, Simon actually rejiggered the play into "The Female Odd Couple." One word: Ugh.) And the audience was vocal and appreciative of SET's work that Saturday night. But the performances, unfortunately, were uneven and one role decidedly miscast.
The setting: a long ago and far away New York City, where cigarettes are 38 cents a pack, newspapers are a dime, and a maid will clean your apartment for $1.50 an hour.
The story: Felix (Chad Siebert) is thrown out by his wife and, in his distress, extravagantly threatens to kill himself (with the intention, we find out, that someone will stop him). He winds up at Oscar's eight-room apartment during the weekly poker game. Oscar (Steve Emily), who is divorced, takes Felix in but soon rues that day: The OCD characteristics that ruined Felix's marriage soon threaten to create enemies out of long good friends.
Like "The Lion in Winter," which SET mounted in January, "The Odd Couple" represents something of a sea change for the small company, which often seemed to be as concentrated on making political statements as producing outstanding theater. Consequently, many of the plays SET produced were either new and unresolved works (for instance, "Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter") or those that posed particularly challenging story structures ("Coronado"). Sometimes it worked brilliantly ("The Pillowman"), and sometimes not so much ("The Land Southward").
So the inclusion of Simon's uber-knowable comedy in this season surprised me. I was particularly curious if such a well-tested and uncomplicated work would ensure a home run for this company.
It might have, except for director Emory John Collinson's casting of Siebert in the role of persnickety Felix. While a fine array of sweater vests, impeccably pressed slacks and nebbishy glasses did go a long way to projecting prom reject, I found that I just couldn't buy Siebert, who's tall, dark and built like swimmer Michael Phelps, in the role. Perhaps tour de force acting would convince you otherwise, but this accomplished actor's attempts to realize "the only man in the world with clinched hair" felt forced (note to Siebert: practice vacuuming) and ultimately fell short of materializing this pivotal character.
Collinson did better with Emily, who, physically speaking, hits the mark as Oscar. And he's certainly comfortable as the well-meaning blunt force object that is this character. Some of the funniest moments, in fact, are driven by Emily. Still, this award-winning actor seemed distracted at times.
The ensemble that made up the poker players - Warren Epstein, Michael Miller, Jeremy Blake and Matt Radcliffe - open and close the play. And as foils for the leads, they are central in establishing the tone and dynamics of the play. In the small role of Vinnie, Miller delivered perhaps the truest and most natural portrayal on that stage. Radcliffe and Blake were both entertaining as the complaining accountant and cop, respectively. And Epstein, the former editor of GO!, throws the kitchen sink into his portrayal of Speed: a tickish Rodney Dangerfield shrug, a spotty New York accent and (electric) cigarette smoking, which was clearly an alien activity to Epstein.
Sarah S. Shaver and Emily Christensen, who played the naughty Pigeon sisters, struggled with their English accents throughout, with mixed results. That aside, they were absolutely delightful as the bubbly urban gals with perhaps only one brain between them.
Three more successful performances: Jeremy Joynt's terrific set, Lisa Siebert's props and Shaver's costumes. Together, they spoke volumes about the mid 1960s and these characters, without the elements becoming characters in their own right. My favorite detail: The outsized glass grapes that my grandmother kept on her dining room table. Nice.
So, was it a worthy foray into popular repertoire? Yes, there were many entertaining moments in the performance. I'm hoping that SET will continue producing both species of theater - the challenging and the mainstream - and do it all memorably well.
Contact T.D. Mobley-Martinez at 476-1602.
"THE ODD COUPLE"
Playwright: Neil Simon
Director: Emory John Collinson
Cast: Steve Emily, Chad Siebert,
Warren Epstein, Jeremy Blake, Mike Miller, Sarah Shaver, Emily Christensen
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes,
including an intermission
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays through June 23
Where: Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache La Poudre St.
Tickets: $15, $10 student rush tickets available at the door five minutes before the show; 357-3080, springs