Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Just the Ticket
Set in the 1960s, and taking place entirely in the large New York City apartment of Oscar Madison (J. Kevin Tallent), the play follows the events that happen after Oscar's friend Felix Ungar (Walt Pedano) is thrown out by his wife when she decides to end their marriage. The divorced Oscar asks the distraught Felix to move in with him, but these men quickly realize that, while their differences were easy to overlook as friends, as roommates their idiosyncrasies clash in hilarious ways. They form a fun odd couple, with Oscar a sarcastic slob and Felix a neurotic and picky neat freak. Comic fireworks ensue.
Simon wrote fully fleshed-out, three-dimensional characters and comical situations and jokes that deliver big laughs when a cast and director are up to the challenge. Director Virginia Olivieri has assembled a sensational cast, without a single weak link, who take the challenge, run with it, and succeed exceptionally. From the well thought out portrayals of every character that are not just realistic but also entirely lovable, to rapid-fire dialogue interchanges among Oscar, Felix, and their friends at their weekly poker games, and the humorous expressions, interactions, and double-takes expertly delivered by all of the actors, Olivieri succeeds in presenting one of the best directed comedies I've seen in town for several seasons. Just watch the hilarious facial expressions, body language, and comic reactions of Oscar's friends during the poker game scenes, the thoughtful acting choices from Tallent and Pedano as they create entirely believable individuals, and the staging when Oscar invites the Pigeon sisters over for a serious dinner party that hilariously goes off the rails, to see this cast and director excel.
J. Kevin Tallent and Walt Pedano form a hilarious duo as Oscar and Felix, respectively. I've seen both actors in several plays but this is the first time they've been in a comedy in lead roles together and they are superb. With expert coming timing, they hilariously bicker like an old married couple who constantly irritate each other. They never try to mimic any of the famous actors who appeared in the film and TV series and expertly play off each other while continually sidestepping any possibility of turning these two likable, but somewhat stereotypical, men into over-the-top, farcical cartoon characters. While much of that can be attributed to Simon's adept script, it's also due to Tallent and Pedano's skilled acting choices and abilities and Olivieri's direction.
Tallent is a lovable teddy bear as the unreliable, undependable slob who utters lines such as, I'm stuck here with Mary Poppins 24 hours a day, in reaction to Felix's constant cleaning, with perfect delivery so they get big laughs. Pedano excelled as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman at Desert Stages in 2019 and here, playing completely against type, he morphs into the introverted, meek and shy Felix who claims he drives everyone crazy and gets overly emotional when speaking of his wife and kids. These two actors are exceptional and appear to be having a blast portraying these well-known and beloved characters.
As the gang of Oscar and Felix's rowdy, poker-playing buddies, Eric Banks, Paul Hartwell, Skip Emerson, and Casey Cowen are all exceptional. Each creates a unique and memorable individual and their sharp comic timing delivers a sizzling string of laughs as they toss insults, complaints, and biting banter around in rapid-fire succession. Samantha Hartwell and Stephanie Vlasich are hilarious as the saucy and silly English Pigeon sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn, who live in the building.
The set design by Olivieri, Rick Sandifer, and Paul Filan is simple but works to depict the living room of Oscar's large apartment. There is also a lovely black and white New York City skyline on the sides of the stage and fun, 1960s pre-show music that also works well to set the tone and time of the show. Richard "Mickey" Courtney's costumes, especially for the supporting cast, are superb in depicting the ambiance of the period.
Part of the beauty of the play, and why I believe it's been so successful, is due to how Simon basically created a satire on long-term relationships, whether that be a marriage or a friendship. We can all see parts of ourselves reflected in Oscar, Felix, and their friends, and have most likely found ourselves in similar conversations where we've irritated a friend or spouse simply due to our personality traits. The question is, are you an Oscar or a Felix?
Desert Stages has implemented many safety protocols for this production, in line with both city and state requirements, including limited audience capacity, socially distanced seating, and masks required for all audience members. A list of all safety requirements can be found on their website.
The Odd Couple runs through April 25, 2021, at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, Fashion Square, 7014 East Camelback Road, Suite 0586, Scottsdale AZ. Tickets and information are available at desertstages.org or by phone at 480-483-1664.
Director: Virginia Olivieri