Relief, Rejoice and Revelation: What a Difference an Audience Makes (and what they teach you)

The run-up to previews has been filled with anxiety, and I’ve alluded to some; the typical but very real concerns of whether a production will be ready (are we sufficiently organized backstage given 500 moving prop pieces on a set that’s messier the Milwee’s Antique Shop?) and whether an audience will laugh at all the jokes (what’s an acceptable batting average on stage? It’s an inversion of Major League Baseball; in theater you’ve got to bat 700% at least to be in the running for a victory, and you’re swinging for 800% and praying for 900%; that’s how greedy, unrealistic, and DEMANDING we’ve all become of our arts and entertainment). But all this nit-picky worrying, which is the annoying energy that actually makes a work of art come to life with an exactitude and commitment to excellence which is necessary to set the work apart from the mediocre, is totally secondary to the more important consideration of how well you’re telling your story; how penetrating is that story? Is that story touching an audience and do we grow to care about a group of people who either do or don’t care for each other?

All this preamble to lead up to this exclamation of relief: YES! We have a show that speaks and that plays and that reinvents its material from the ground up; from the kishkies up; meaning we start with the INSIDES of the characters and the mess that their middle aged lives have turned into, and from that state of dishevelment comes the incitement of a fresh divorce; a newly jilted buddy, who throws himself on his circle of support and up-ends everyone in the process. It’s a play about the reality of divorce and reaching the breaking point with friends who try to help but wind up growing weary as they’re forced to confront their own radical limitations. Real stuff. Jerry Whiddon has directed THE ODD COUPLE from the inside-out and, in so doing, made it seem totally fresh (listen to me, I’m writing our own review!) — I’ll stop using that kind of language, but rather say, Jerry’s doing for ODD COUPLE what we did for LOST IN YONKERS. He’s making Neil Simon look not only like a comic genius, but like A VERY HONEST PLAYWRIGHT (even better!) WHO KNOWS WHEREOF HE WRITES!

In LOST IN YONKERS, he wrote about a husband losing his wife to cancer. That loss was the basis for a plot line filled with pathos about a dad forced to go on the road while his kids, newly orphaned, stayed with a belligerent grandma and an idiot wonderful aunt. The genius of YONKERS–not widely recognized at first–was that it came from a very real place of loss–and it stayed in a very real place of emotional stinginess and neglect as mother and daughter went at it. It was funny as hell and it broke your heart; or more accurately, it was funny as hell BECAUSE it broke your heart.

And so too with THE ODD COUPLE. But don’t take my word for it! I’m just producing it and am (still) anxious about making budget. You tell us why it works; if it works; how it plums some real depths of a time that not only was but IS — DIVORCE IS FORVER! MISBEGOTTEN FRIENDSHIPS ARE FOREVER! COMEDY DERIVED FROM RICH CHARACTER IS FOREVER.

And with that, let’s do some yard work.

Can we get a comment? (Better to see the show first, then comment. But that hasn’t stopped some of our brighter writers in the past – let’s hear from you: Does The Odd Couple still work? Why?)

Next up: Roommate stories…