Craig Nolan Highley & Jeremy Guiterrez. Photo: Jason Cooper.
Oscar & Felix: A New Look at the Odd Couple
By Neil Simon
Directed by Jason Cooper
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
While the original The Odd Couple made its Broadway debut in 1965, those of us of a certain generation are perhaps more familiar with the television iteration starring Jack Klugman as the slovenly Oscar and neat-freak Felix expertly played by Tony Randall.
Theatre Reprise is a new initiative in Louisville’s theater community, one that seeks to bring a new perspective to modern classics.
Luckily for the company, none other than the playwright himself, Neil Simon, had already done the art of revamping a classic for them.
Set in the year 2000, Oscar (Craig Nolan Highley) and his poker-playing pals are prepared for an evening of drinking beer and eating questionable cuisine. A knock at Oscar’s door reveals a slightly disheveled and pale Felix (Jeremy Gutierrez). He was just kicked out of the house by his wife. Overcome with emotion the usual straight-thinking and practical Felix gives his pals a good scare.
Oscar offers his home to Felix for temporary refuge, but what started out as a few days turns into weeks and what was once Oscar’s comfortable pig-stye has been upended by Felix’s tidiness.
Recognizing that he and Felix need to have some fun, Oscar befriends the Spanish neighbors from upstairs, lovely sisters Julia (Jessica Tanselle) and Ynez (Brenda Moran) Costazuela, inviting them to dinner prepared by Felix.
The poker pals comprised of Speed (Aaron G. Whaley), Vinnie (Gerald A. Robertson) and Murray (Richard Williams) played their respective roles down to the hilt, including good accents. While the other poker pal, Rosie, is typically played by a male, Janice Walter (who was also serving as Stage Manager) absolutely made that role hers.
Ms. Moran and Ms. Tanselle’s Costazuela sisters were just the right side of the language barrier, playing cluelessness to win the laughs but never sacrificing the integrity of the characters.
Having seen Mr. Highley and Mr. Guiterrez in other productions over the years, I wondered if Oscar and Felix had been selected as the inaugural play because of how well these two actors fit the demands of their respective characters. They were so natural in their relationship that the lines were blurred
I suspect that director Jason Cooper caught on to that possibility pretty early on as his direction was rather seamless. The set construction and staging was pretty spot on for Oscar’s apartment, even down to the New York Yankees poster and a picture that looked as if it was a relic from when the Executive Inn once stood. Incidental and fill in music was appropriate as was the trashiness of the set.
But not all was perfect, unfortunately. Despite the play being set in 2000, there were details establishing that period, save the use of an older mobile phone. Also, the character of Speed lit up a cigar. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be that big a deal, but for someone like myself who is allergic to tobacco smoke and was within 20 feet from the stage, it was a bit uncomfortable.
Even watching through the small billow of smoke, this turned out to be a very enjoyable evening of theatrical comedy and I look forward to what the future will bring from Theatre Reprise.
Oscar and Felix: A New Look at the Odd Couple
June 28, 29, July 5, 6 at 7:30 pm
June 30, July 7 at 5:30 pm
At The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40204
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.