What could be more pathetic than a
lonely man, thrown out of his house by his wife? Or worse, two men ejected by their
wives and cohabitating. And even more pathetic than that: one of them being a
slob and the other an obsessed neatness freak. With this, we have the formulae
devised in 1965 by Neil Simon in his American classic play The Odd Couple, with chronic mess-man Oscar Madison and clean freak
This popular and winning combination has been produced in its original form
many times over, twice just in Philadelphia
in this calendar year. But more creative
have been the spin-offs from the original, such as that now playing at Shadow
Theatre in Aurora.
Directed by Richard Pegg and starring Jeffrey Nickelson as clean freak Felix,
who has just come to live with slob Oscar,
played by Hugo Jon Sayles, the play is essentially a re-write by Simon in 2004,
of his classic play written nearly 40 years earlier.
Sayles seems to truly relish his
character, making mockery of the sense that cleanliness is next to godliness.
His conflicts with Felix over cleanliness and order in the apartment seem to
boost his appreciation of life, to say nothing of providing rich fodder for the
wealth of jokes and funny vignettes that Sayles presents very well.
Nickelson is superb as the
fetishly clean and orderly Felix. He uses the role to add to his active sense of
play acting by use of a series of looks, glares and other nonverbal cues that
are easily readable by the audience and constitute some of the funniest aspects
of the play.
There can be no doubt that the two
characters love each other in a thoroughly manly way, but they just cannot
stand each other. Their equal-but-opposite obsessive behavior gives the
audience plenty of laughs, but the characters stop just short sometimes of
wearing out the audience with the constant bickering, turning the radio on and
volume up, turning it down or off, purposely spreading trash and garbage
through the apartment, and cleaning it up. The audience is clear, very early on
as to the nature and character of these two intense individuals, and so the
actors must take care not to bore the audience out of its socks, and out of the
seats, through their repetitive, obsessive behavior. Indeed, as noted above, much
of the best acting in the piece has to do with the characters merely looking at
A group of friends, played with
their own brand of hilarity by Kurt Sonderstrom, Marcus Porter, Theo Wilson,
and Joey Santos, enliven the play by their banter and a kind of manly joie de vivre. The delight in the knowledge
that they can eat, drink, smoke, and play cards with gusto at Felix’s apartment,
and then they get to leave the mess where Oscar is quite at home and Felix will
unhappily clean it up. The episodes with the friends are rather like the
gravedigger’s scene from Hamlet –extremely humorous, taking the pressure off
the two lead characters, allowing them to be friends and a little normal, but
only for a short time.
The play is also saved from the
monotony of the expected conduct of Oscar and Felix by the Puerto Rican girls. The
foxy, sizzling Costazuela sisters are played by the, well, foxy, sizzling Kirstin
Adele and Ashlie Harris. The entrance of the sisters late in the play and their
own wonderful hilarity tell us that a woman in even an obsessive man’s life can
be a very good thing, if he can see (and feel) her through his obsession. And while we are left to ponder whether Oscar
and Felix can really make it together in an apartment, we know they are going
to make a try of it, aided on occasion by the Costazuela sisters.
This odd couple is created from an
old formula, but the laughter is brand new. Don’t come
to the play in tight clothes, because you very well may split them out with
laughing and delight. And when the tempo of the play slows down, be patient and
just remember that the sisters are coming
soon to rescue it. Isn’t that almost always how it is with men?
Editor’s note: Oscar and Felix is presented at the
Shadow Theatre, 1468 Dayton St.,
on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and on Sundays at 3 p.m.
through June 14. To purchase tickets, call the Box Office at 720-857-8000 or
TicketAnnex at 1-866-388-4TIX or go online to ticketannex.com.