Good Acting Wrings Laughs From Familiar 'Odd Couple'

Stone Road's Production Of Comedy Is A Winner

November 06, 1991|By Tim Weinfeld | Tim Weinfeld,Contributing theater critic

TANEYTOWN — OK, so I was tired of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple."

Over 25 years I have seen at least a dozen productions of this audience-pleaser.

Attending one more was not something I looked forward to with pleasure.

I should have.

Stone Road Productions' version is a winner. I laughed more in 1991 than I did in 1965.

Director Michael Pressimone has done a masterful job of casting. The players are experienced actors, each just right for the part. Pressimone knows good casting is half the battle, and he has waged it well.

The well-known "Odd Couple" features Felix and Oscar, two men who share being in process of divorce but do not share lifestyles. They represent polaritiesof neatness and sloppiness, of rigidity and flexibility, and it is on these differences that the humor is based.

Too often, productions of Simon's scripts give the impression that the humor is imposed onthe text, tacked on outside of character and plot.

But in this production, as in life, they arise realistically from character and situation. This is not "comedy club" comedy.

Pressimone, as the sloppy Oscar, provides a fine foil for Felix's fetish neatness. His slow but sure deconstruction as a result of his friend's behavior unfolds believably and is a joy to behold.

However, the representation of his own sloth would be more enjoyable if it was perceived as arising more from character than as an occasional device to defend against Felix's compulsive cleanliness.

Oscar is angry for most of the secondact, and Pressimone does a fine job of sustaining that mood and varying it so as not to be cloying.

Roger Buchanan provides a fine contrast as Felix. He is stronger in the second act, when his fastidious, fussy, regimented lifestyle is thwarted by Oscar's late arrival to the dinner party he has so carefully planned. His incinerated London broil may be fun for the audience, but definitely not for Felix.

Buchanan's first act is less telling. It lacks the self-pity and self-absorption needed to be convincing as the wounded man who struggles with the reality of being tossed from his home by his wife.

As the British bimbos who live upstairs, Denae Baker Chandler and Kathleen Day succeed where so many others have failed. They are both outrageousand believeable. These parodies on Oscar Wilde's women in "The Importance of Being Earnest" are easily overacted, but Chandler and Day elegantly avoid the trap.

The coup d'theatre in this production is the poker gang. Generally, these four fellows often only take up spaceand contribute little. Not in this production.

Ivan Sherman, Arnie Vandervalk, Arnie Hayes and Doug Chandler present disparate and delightful New Yorkers who are joys to behold.

Sherman, resembling the expressionless Buster Keaton and making his acting debut, is a scream. If this is his first show, one can but wonder how terrific subsequent performances will be. Let's hope there are many more.

Vandervalk, who strained in his last part in September Song's "Kiss Me Kate," returns to form here and turns in a captivating characterization.

The other Arnie, Hayes, provides wonderful contrast with his Wally Cox-approach to Vinnie. Chandler is engaging and has the greatest success with the New York dialect.

Whether you have never seen this play or have seen it often, don't miss this version. It will send you home smiling.

"The Odd Couple" continues at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 12:30 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 15-17 at the Havilah-Hayes Dinner Theatre in Taneytown. Information: 875-2296.

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