A Saying Goodbye to a Wondrous Production

Odd Couple closed last night – I’m still hung over (though mostly from staying up too late reading papers and getting ready for our next posting – the launch of our Middle East Festival – watch this space). We played out the Thanksgiving week with a pretty great streak – of 6 sold out shows in a row, and each house responded with such warmth, some genuine affection for the play and the production, it just made us all so proud and so pleased. Sometimes it’s just about producing a show really beautifully from top to bottom — not worrying what it “says” about society or how it pushes the envelope of new forms or how it marks another notch on the world premiere belt we wear so conspicuously. Producing The Odd Couple did nothing really for anyone’s reputation, except maybe for each of the actors who outran the shadows of other towering performances (Walter Matthau, Jack Lemon, Art Carney, Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick) and brought such vigorous life to an unmistakably vivid ensemble of friends and neighbors — and it proud further admiration to director Jerry Whiddon and his great team of designers who realized the vision of this production to a “T.” In fact, come to think of it, THE ODD COUPLE did do all of us at Theater J a lot of pride and made for a great new calling card of an achievement by virtue of how much extraordinary talent we were able to gather and focus and serve a little comic masterpiece. Everything here just worked so well, so holistically, as it were; everything of a delightful piece — kinda like the last bunch of plays we’ve been doing, each of them imbued with an integrity of purpose and ensemble that makes us all very pleased and, again, proud.

But still THE ODD COUPLE was special. Because there were so many laughs to go around. We’ll remember those. For a long time to come.

And onward, onto the next bushel of gags and laughs – 4 guys in dresses – The Kinsey Sicks in OY VEY IN A MANGER. With a great pre-sale already!!! What wonderful news!!!


from Rick Foucheux

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.

Laughing Herself Sick! [revised]

This is an amazing stage manager’s report (from an amazing stage manager, reporting on last Sunday night’s show) – a poor woman in the audience was laughing so hard she basically stopped breathing! And our wonderful actors were sensitive enough to hear and hold and everyone responded with urgency and a sense of sensitivity.   We’re all so very grateful for this professional and caring response. And then the show went on!

Stage Manager’s Performance Report
Day: Sun – Date: 11.21.10 – Curtain Time: 7:30 pm
House Open – 7:04 pm – Curtain Speech – 7:37 pm – Curtain up: 7:38
Act I: 44:08 Intermission – 13:28 (change took 8:48)
Act II: 43:32 – Intermission – 9:55
Act III: 29:45* see note below
Curtain Down: 9:59 pm – TOTAL Elapsed Time – 2:21 Act III
House Count – 198 – Running Time – 2:20:51* see note below

Performance Notes:
House held for sound check; curtain held for patron arrival/seating; intermission 1 held for patron return
Good audience, good laughers; liked the players; loved “Murray it’s your wife”; liked players’ reaction to Felix; liked Felix’s ailments and Oscar’s reaction to them; loved the top of Act II; liked Felix’s cleaning/Oscar’s reaction to it; liked predate argument; loved the sisters and Felix’s reaction to them; liked the Act III argument, as usual, FU joke was a favorite; applause at “you’re all packed”; see note below regarding stoppage of show. Standing ovation.

Shortly after “there you are all packed” in Act III, a patron in the house started hyperventilating from laughing so hard (her description). The people around her stood and asked for a doctor. R. Foucheux and F. Shiffman stopped the show, the house lights were brought up and SM contacted HM, who was in the elevator at the time. HM left the elevator and came upstairs to call 911. Dr. Itzhak Brook, who was in the house, went to the woman in distress and helped calm her down. SM reported to HM that a doctor was on the scene and to please come in the house. Once she was breathing normally and everyone returned to their seats, the show resumed with “Why doesn’t he hear me?”  [Once the woman caught her breath and could talk, she told the actors that it happened because she was laughing so hard. Rick replied, saying “not to worry, the funniest parts were now over” and more laughs and applause and the show went on!]
SM spoke with both parties after the show and an incident report was filed.

Reclaiming (Or Re-naming) “Odd”

We had an small but receptive group stick around after last Sunday’s matinée performance of THE ODD COUPLE; which we followed with the discussion: Scripture Unscripted: The Interfaith Family and the Attraction of Opposites (are people less likely to stay for a panel following a comedy? This seems to be true…)

The panel consisted of:

Moderated by Rabbi Tamara Miller, Teacher of contemporary Jewish wisdom in multi-denominational environments through classes, lectures and private tutoring
Rabbi Harold White, Spiritual Advisor to the Interfaith Family Project and former Jewish Chaplain at Georgetown University
Susan Katz Miller and Paul Miller, Susan’s great-grandfather was a circuit-riding rabbi on the Mississippi River, Paul’s great-grandfather was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark. Susan writes a blog about interfaith families called onbeingboth.com. Both Susan and Paul have served on the Board of the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington
Mark Hoelter and Karen Key, Mark is a Unitarian Universalist minister who has served five congregations, done interfaith work in DC, and now helps people through life coaching. Karen is Jewish Renewal and a member of Am Kolel Congregation.
Robin Metalitz is a Reform Jew, who grew up going to Temple Sinai. Her husband Raj Gupta, the son of immigrants from India, is Hindu.
Rev. Bonnie J. Berger was born and raised as a Reform Jew, ordained as an Interfaith Minister in 2006, and has served as a chaplain, a spiritual coach, and a marriage officiant. Since same-sex marriage was legalized in DC, Rev. Bonnie has presided at over 100 same-sex marriages. Her partner was raised Catholic, received a masters of religion at Yale, and now has a Hindu guru.

Susan Katz Miller has written up a fantastic overview about her experience being on the panel at her blog On Being Both.

Now, some quick video clips. In the first excerpt, Susan and Paul explain why their choices as a couple and a family seem to them to be anything but “odd”:
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