And so I find myself heading into the closing week of show #2 in my season-long, three-play artist-in-residency at one of DC’s most valuable theaters. One could not find two plays more different than Something You Did and The Odd Couple. Alright, maybe Othello and Little Mary Sunshine. Or The Caine Mutiny Court Martial and Noises Off. Or… (gee, now that I think about it the possibilities for this joke are endless).
Endless jokes of course is what Neil Simon’s work is, in a nutshell, and having to say goodbye to it will be a particularly difficult thing. This material makes a live laugh-track of even the stoniest of audiences, and for an actor it is a time to relish. But limited time is one of the many admitted, accepted downsides of our business, and when you get one like this — one that has you looking forward to going into the theater every single night — you savor it from opening. And in the final week you savor it like the last bit of turkey gravy sopped up by a dinner roll.
Why is The Odd Couple particularly savory for me? Well, in no particular order: J. Fred Shiffman. Michael Willis. Marcus Kyd. Delaney Williams. Paul Morella. Helen Pafumi. Lise Bruneau. SEVEN OF THE BEST REASONS TO GO TO THE THEATER ANY NIGHT OF THE YEAR. Blindfold these people, tie their hands behind their backs, spin them around and push them on stage — and you still won’t find anyone surer of comedy feast-making. I’m thankful for them and for Jerry Whiddon, who had the great and tricky task of directing their manic brilliance into a meal fit for a king or queen.
And what other theater would or could put this play in the same season with The Chosen or Photograph 51? The menu Theater J serves up every year is unique in our town and possibly anywhere. I have the greatest respect for Ari Roth and his staff for making this abundance available to the play-going public and to the artists who get to do the work. It is a constant struggle — in effort, in morale, in finances — for a theater of this size to maintain a commitment to its audience and to the art, but Theater J does it. And it does it through the love and passion and honor of everyone who passes through its doors.
Now, as to Mr. Simon. Dare I seat him at table with Shakespeare and Mozart and Rembrandt? Maybe, but then, as he might say, “except for the fact that I’m not dead.” Nonetheless, if playwriting genius is witnessed in story or structure or heart or an ability to look into the dark souls of our fellow humans and still make us laugh till we stop the show because we resemble a heart attack victim — then please make room for Neil at any table he wishes to join.
But what do I know? I just like telling jokes.
It’s been a fun and funny run. It’s been a challenging four months. I’m looking forward to starting rehearsals in the new year for The Chosen.
November 29, I start a beard.