Apr 4, 2017
by Harry Duke, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics Association
There’s a certain segment of the “thea-tuh” community that turns its collective nose up at the mere mention of a mainstream, commercially-successful playwright. One of my most vivid college memories is of a member of the Theatre Arts faculty nearly having a stroke at the mention of the possibility of scheduling a Neil Simon play in the season. These artists often measure success by how badly attended their productions are, reveling in the confirmation of how unique and right they are about what is art and how wrong everybody else is.
Director Jennifer King graciously admits to prescribing to some of these thoughts, particularly about Neil Simon, till an actor who she greatly respects prodded her into taking a look at Simon’s The Odd Couple. The next thing she knew she was directing a production of it, now running at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater.
The Odd Couple may be the most post popular American play ever written. From its premier on Broadway over fifty years ago to the classic Jack Lemmon – Walter Matthau film to its current third incarnation as a prime-time television sitcom, The Odd Couple, with slight modifications (including a Saturday morning cartoon with an anthropomorphized cat and dog as the leads,) endures. Why? Because it’s funny.
The premise is simple – mismatched roommates. There, I summed up the plot in two words. There’s a whole lot more than that, of course, but it’s with that now-classic premise to which most people can relate. Who hasn’t roomed with a Felix and/or Oscar at some point in their life? Who hasn’t been driven up a wall by a compadre’s peccadilloes? Who hasn’t reached out to help a friend and then turn around and want to kill him?
Friendship is at the heart ofThe Odd Couple, male friendship in particular (though Simon adapted the play himself in 1985 as The Female Odd Couple.) and King has cast the show with a group of guys who you can actually believe are friends.Nathan Cummings brings a gruff charm to Oscar andAaron Wilton nails both the prissiness and heart of Felix. Both manage to avoid comparisons to Matthau/Lemmon/Klugman/Randall, with Wilton’s Felix wound a bit tighter than usual. Wilton may come off as a tad young to be playing the middle-aged Felix, but his character choices get you past that. They’re both fun to watch.
A lot of the humor in the play comes from Felix and Oscar’s poker playing buddies, and King has cast these supporting roles as well as her leads.Tim Kniffin is verydry as accountant Roy.Tim Setzer, usually seen locally in musicals, is amusing as henpecked Vinnie.Zachary Stockton as the cigar-chewing, wise-cracking Speed is a man after my own heart with his laser-like focus on the game.Chad Yarish’s Murray the cop is the heart and soul of the group, managing to be funny and kind of sweet when it comes to caring about his friend Felix. How the hell this disparate group of guys became friends is never addressed, but before you go challenging their believability to take a look at your own.
Laughs also come via the Pigeon sisters (nicely played bySamantha Dakin and Morgan Harrington), a couple of British expatriates who are the source of the final conflict (and resolution) between Oscar and Felix.
In a pre-show presentation, director King addressed the personal challenge of putting on a straightforward production and resisting the temptation to add any avant-garde elements. I can’t imagine this show done with a minimalist set instead of Joseph Elwick’s nicely designed NY apartment or everyone dressed in black instead of Skipper Skeoch’s nicely understated period dress. King met the challenge by simply sticking to the script and trusting her actors.
While there are individual lines that seem dated ($280 a month for an eight room, New York City apartment?!) the show itself does not come off that way. Rooted in real relationships, it’s a funny look at the American male-psyche, still gloriously flawed after fifty years.
Cinnabar Theater’s The Odd Couple is an extremely enjoyable production of an American comedy classic.
Presented by Cinnabar Arts
through April 23
Friday/Saturday @ 8pm / Sunday @ 2pm
3333 Petaluma Blvd N
Petaluma, CA 94952
Photos by Eric Chazankin