The Odd Couple
That said, the jokes are still pretty funny for those who don't remember them from seeing earlier productions or the film, and it does gives us two great comic characters in Oscar and Felix. The roles may require better comedians than we get in this production, though. While Greg Roach and Jon Steinhagen give decent performances, it might be best to see this piece in the hands of star-quality comedians, since it is really all about the laughs. Roach makes a good rough and tumble sportswriter, though he seems to be working a little too hard at it and doesn't really quite get at the core of his character. Steinhagen is a little too nuanced, if that's possible. We really see Felix's anguish over losing his wife, but we empathize with him a little too much to let us laugh at him.
The supporting cast is terrific, though, particularly Brigitte Ditmars and Liz Fletcher as the Pigeon sisters, Oscar's British neighbors whose double-date with Oscar and Felix goes unexpectedly. They're convincingly sexy and flirtatious, out-there but not over the top. There's good character work from the men playing Oscar and Felix's poker buddies as well (Greg Caldwell, Larry Cabrani, Greg Kolack and Anthony Tournis).
Director Michael Menendian's production also does a great job of recreating the period (a necessity, I guess, in a play with a joke about drive-in movie theaters). Ray Toler's set is a realistic depiction of a rambling Upper West Side apartment, and it's filled with artifacts compiled by Mary O'Dowd that include LP record jackets, Life magazines and a mid-century TV set.
Simon may not have known it at the time, but The Odd Couple catches a transitional moment in U.S. society. Oscar, Felix and their poker-playing buddies grew up in a world where the genders pretty much stayed in their own corners and "loose" women like the Pigeon sisters held a special appeal. When Oscar and Felix's wives show they could get along without them, that fraternal system starts to fray. The change in gender roles will became more dramatic in a few years after the action of this play. Mendendian's setting of this in that historical context is almost a good enough revisit for those familiar with the piece to revisit it. Mostly, though, it may be most fun for those who know The Odd Couple only from the TV series, or who are new to it.
The Odd Couple will be performed through July 18, 2010, at the Raven Theatre, 6156 N. Clark, Chicago. Tickets and information are available at www.raventheatre.com or 773-338-2177.