We’re about to unveil a star-studded production of one of the funniest plays ever written, THE ODD COUPLE, a play I HAVE NEVER SEEN PRODUCED BEFORE. I know, I know, everyone always assumes they’ve seen every Neil Simon play ever written, but who remembers Felix’s suicide attempt, really? Who remembers Vinnie fetishizing a pimento and date nut bread sandwich with the crust cut off especially for him? Who remembers Oscar’s heartbreak when his nemesis leaves? There are a million reasons for a theater like ours that honors the work of playwrights (and calls itself a “playwrights theater”) to produce an impeccably written, beautifully crafted comedy. But there’s no shortage of anxiety, just the same, as director, cast, creative team and producing staff sweat the details and look at the very high bar of expectation we’ve all set for ourselves in hopes for hitting the entertainment home-run we’ve all gathered to collectively make for ourselves and our big community.
We’re nervous about details — the amount of garbage on stage; will the beer spray over the audience, or make the playing cards too sticky every night? Will the seemingly casual, interlocking dialogue of the card players play out perfectly, as it must, and everyone hit their mark in perfect stride? Typical production concerns. Only here we’re all thinking, “It’s ‘deliver the goods or bust.'” There’s a lot to prove on this production. We’re doing this to confer sterling status on a play that deserves only the best, and not have its reputation degraded by the taint of “easy access community theater fare” which is how poor Neil Simon often gets introduced within the in-the-know theater crowd. There’s reason to think that his won’t initially be thought of as the “Must See production” of the month, and yet, I feel in my bones, that this could be the most deeply rewarding and enjoyable evening of the fall. I laugh so hard I cry every single run-through of this production with this fabulous company. I love this company we’ve recruited. A superior group (featuring Rick Foucheux and J. Fred Shiffman as Oscar and Felix with Lise Bruneau (Cecily), Marcus Kyd (Speed), Paul Morella (Roy), Helen Pafumi (Gwendolyn), Delaney Williams (Murray) and Michael Willis (Vinnie)) led by a furiously infused director, Jerry Whiddon, who bringing such integrity to this comedy — “making it real before making it funny,” as he likes to say — to mine the pathos of these men run amok.
Next post I’ll share my own thoughts about the piece — what it’s really touching on for me — a reason, perhaps, why this play speaks so deeply and personally. But moreover, I know what this play delivers to an audience… Which is some of the most satisfying laughter you’ll ever hear in a theater.