by Sharon Falduto
A 2009 staging of The Odd Couple in Iowa is set against a completely different cultural backdrop than an original staging in the 1960s. It’s hard to watch Neil Simon’s play, about manly men doing manly things and living together in a manly way, without putting it in the context of a gay marriage. Of course that wasn’t Simon’s intent, and the Old Creamery Production plays it straight, but the nods are definitely there — especially in the character of Felix, the persnickety character with a penchant for the traditionally female roles of cooking and cleaning.
The play starts with that most masculine of pursuits, a poker game. We are introduced to most of the cast, a quintet of poker players helmed by Oscar Madison (because it takes place in his apartment). This group of men did an excellent job of making the poker game look real, a contrast to later hubbub and hilarity as they chase a despondent Felix around and through the apartment.
The actors making up the gang are a roundup of local celebrity stunt casting, including Dennis Green from KCCK, Joe Jennison of the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance, Ric Swann from Z102.9, and Old Creamery favorite Steve Weiss.
Dennis Green is Ray, Oscar’s accountant—a thankless job, since Oscar has been losing money his entire life. He plays the part straight and narrow, a regular guy in thick glass. He doesn’t, perhaps, stand out as a personality in the show, but he helps to keep the game grounded. In counterpoint to Roy’s affability, Joe Jennison is a bottled up ball of rage ready to explode. He chomps a cigar throughout the play in a manner which leads the audience to suspect he may bit right through at any moment. Steve Weiss as Vinnie and Ric Swann as Murray are the happily (?) married men in the group, but their henpecked stature shows in the slope of Vinnie’s shoulders as he shrugs to the door, and in Officer Murray’s distracted fingerplay as he expresses his envy of bachelors Felix and Oscar.
Deborah Kennedy and Jackie McCall round out the supporting cast as the Pigeon sisters, two fun birds from Britain who bring a literal splash of color with their neon outfits and their outrageous entendres.
The stars of the show, of course, are the dysfunctional couple Felix and Oscar. The premise of the play (as if you didn’t know) is that Felix has been cut loose from his marriage, and he moves in with his slobby friend Oscar... and hilarity ensues.
Tom Milligan is perfectly at ease as Oscar, inhabiting what appear to be Jack Klugman’s exact costumes as he slobs about in his eight room apartment with no one to hold him responsible for his mess. His body language is open and free, every bit the lady’s man with no troubles in the world, in spite of the large amount of money he owes in child support.
Seth McCall’s Felix was, unfortunately, the sour note of the show. His Felix was overacted and so obnoxious that every time he whine “No wonder Frances left me!” the audience was inclined to agree. His delivery verged on Jerry Lewis “nice LA-DY” territory all too often. His physical comedy, on the other hand, was a thing to behold: body twisted in on itself in reaction to slight injury, obnoxious moose noises to clear his adenoids, and all.
The set for this show was absolutely amazing. Every detail evoked a bachelor pad recently vacated by a woman. The door to the offstage bathroom opened to reveal decorative panels in the entryway, and in my favorite stroke of set design genius, the door to the offstage kitchen pushed open to reveal a kitchen with an actual stove, and jello molds hung on the wall.
The pacing for the show was a bit off. My companion and I agreed that at times we found ourselves thinking it should be moving along a bit more quickly. Do pay attention to the shadows during scene changes, though, as you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
If you go to the Old Creamery and are under 30 years old, remember to bring an ID. The theatre offers a hefty discount for the under 30 set. The Old Creamery’s Odd Couple features a wonderful ensemble, but the heart of the matter — the platonic “marriage” of Felix and Oscar — didn’t ever seem to quite gel.
Sharon Falduto has been involved with theatre for many years. Notable roles include Corrie in Barefoot in the Park with Dreamwell and Myra in Hay Fever with ICCT. She has directed God for the now defunct student group, West Side Players, and Of Mice and Men for Dreamwell. She is currently out of the theatre scene, as she is busy directing the lives of Rachel, Samantha, and Piper at her home in Coralville. She still enjoys the stage, however, and hopes to trod the boards again in the future.