'Odd Couple' By Mount Airy Players Shows Why The Troupe Needs Home

November 07, 1990|By Tim Weinfeld | Tim Weinfeld,Contributing theater critic

Though saddled with the lack of a permanent home, the agile Mount Airy Players continue to mount commendable community theater.

The large and enthusiastic audience gathered in the auditorium of Mount Airy Middle School gave the dependable Players high marks for Friday's opening-night performance of Neil Simon's popular comedy "The Odd Couple."

It's a shame the troupe must improvise and juggle schedules for its biannual productions. One can only wonder what the quality of the Players' work would be if they had a permanent facility and were not in constant competition with basketball teams and gymnasts for treasured space.

The unsettled arrangement limits the Players' ability to mount an attractive physical production. Scenery for this production, as well as others in the past, was less attractive and less sturdy than is possible and desirable.

"The Odd Couple" takes place in an apartment on Riverside Drive in New York City. What arrived on stage was no more than the simplest of box sets, unattractively decorated and featuring too few windows and doors for belief or for ease and comfort of character movement. This was not enhanced by the awkward placement of the few pieces of furniture necessary to meet the requirements of the script.

The well-known "Odd Couple" features Felix and Oscar, two men alike in being separated from their wives but unalike in lifestyles. They represent polarities of neatness and sloppiness, of rigidity and flexibility, and it is on these differences that the humor and jokes in the script are based.

Jay Carswell and Mark Wichtendahl, as Oscar and Felix, respectively, exhibit a strong understanding of the disparate nature of their characters.

But they are not always able to bring those differences to life.

Much of the problem stems from the fact that they are the same physical types -- twin Pillsbury dough boys -- and lack the contrasting sizes and shapes that so strongly effect the odd-couple characterizations.

Neither takes his sloppiness or neatness to the extremes possible.

Both actors treat the text intelligently and, thus, do succeed with much of what is funny. And the audience responds with the anticipated laughter.

However, other comedic possibilities remain unrealized.

Director Kathy Lang, while strongly supporting much of the humor in the text, often fails to take the best advantage of her materials. The actors appear under-directed, and the sight and prop gags are few and far between.

For example, why does the text's contrast between Oscar and his buddies downing beers in Act I and Felix drinking expensive Scotch whisky in Act II degenerate in this production into soft drinks and booze? There is simply no way to consider those who gather for the poker game a ginger ale crowd.

The beer drinkers, played by Sonny Etzler, Ian Adams, Steve Boyer and Don Lang do quite well. There is none of the overacting or stereotyping that these kinds of characters invite, and it is to the credit of the director and these men that their scenes contribute to the success of the production.

Even though they project little of the New York flavor appropriate to their roles, they do very well in establishing an important mood and tone.

The girls upstairs, Gwendolyn (Mary Esther Judy) and Cecily Pigeon (Julie Denney), are played here mostly as flat characters and, with the exception of a bray-like laughter, are mostly indistinguishable from one another. Tradition has established these two as sexy airheads, and it is a tradition worth maintaining.

The more-traditional portrayal is especially valid since these characters are takeoffs on the women in Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," and they contrast with Wilde's upper-class women of high intelligence and much modesty.

Opening-night insecurity influenced the rhythm and pacing of the production, but not to an extent damaging to the overall effectiveness.

The Mount Airy Players have added another positive production to the long list of plays that have delighted their loyal audiences.

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