`Odd Couple' offers laughs despite its dated dialogue

Comedy: 2nd Star Productions brings back the nostalgic '60s standard about two mismatched roommates.

Arundel Live

Review

March 18, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Depending on one's view, Neil Simon's The Odd Couple is an over-roasted old chestnut or a pleasantly nostalgic comic standard. 2nd Star Production's version of Simon's 1965 hit comedy may be both, succeeding despite the audience's familiarity with protagonists Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar.

Some may have met Oscar and Felix when they were portrayed definitively by Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the 1968 film classic. Later, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall played Oscar and Felix in a television series that ran from 1970 until 1975 and continues to air in syndication.

The formidable quartet has cast long shadows on anyone playing the roles later. The current local production succeeds primarily because director Charles W. Maloney realized that the familiar favorite should be played straight so that the audience can enjoy watching the classic comedy.

But problems may lurk in aspects of this nearly 40-year-old comedy that are dated; its once-clever dialogue now sometimes lacks zing.

But Simon is a master of sharp one-liners, most retaining their edge when uttered by 2nd Star's mismatched roommates.

Initially the production exhibits some weakness in the opening poker game, which drags. The supporting players who form Oscar's poker cronies are saddled with dated dialogue that results in forced, somewhat-stiff interaction.

Despite some tired lines, the actors manage to deliver laughs. Todd Cunningham as Murray, the always-hungry cop, Dave O'Brien as accountant Roy, Jack Degnan as nervous Vinny and Jerry Khatacheressian as the complaining Speed struggle to maintain a lively pace while delivering their sometimes-humorous banter.

The crucial element is the quality of the actors playing Oscar and Felix, and here 2nd Star's production shines. Edward Kuhl's Oscar is not just the familiar, loveable slob we recognize, but also a warm-hearted guy with a hilariously short fuse.

Few things in comedy are funnier than incompatibility, which both actors convey with brilliant comic timing. Gary Seddon gives a skilled portrayal of Felix, a difficult part. Seddon makes his large size work for him as another comic aspect.

Remarkably light on his feet, Seddon makes the sight gags even funnier - whether clearing his throat or dealing with his stiff neck - and he is especially funny when he is crying. The comic highlight of the show comes during Felix's crying scene with the visiting upstairs neighbors - the Pigeon sisters.

With convincing English accents and looking like part of the swinging '60s in their mini-dresses, Deanna Kreutz as Cecily Pigeon and Lesley Miller as her sister Gwendolyn are terrific. They charm the audience as they succumb to Felix's unique appeal. After they giggle with Oscar, they cry with Felix, and in the final scene vigorously defend Felix as they stand up to his roommate.

Set designer Lynne Wilson has created an authentic-looking '60s set that contributes to the nostalgic mood. Costume designer Jane Wingard has designed equally authentic garb for the actors, adding to the show's humor.

The Odd Couple continues on weekends through March 27 at Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park. Reservations: 410-757-5700 or 301-858-7245. 2nd Star will offer a single performance of The Princess and the Pea at 10 a.m. Thursday. Reservations may be made by calling the same numbers.

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