OREM — Hale Center Theater Orem has always been great with comedies. Their current production of The Odd Couple was funny, though its components were too uneven and disjointed to be the sort of show that lives up to the company’s usual standard for comedies.
The Odd Couple tells the story of a group of men who get together to play poker at Oscar’s house. He is divorced, and one of the men in the group, Felix, is suddenly kicked out of his house and marriage. Oscar takes Felix in, and they soon drive each other crazy. They meet a couple women, and because Felix gets in the way of Oscar enjoying time with the girls, he kicks Felix out.
Director David Morgan added many moments of extra comedy I haven’t seen in previous productions of The Odd Couple. I particularly enjoyed the stretched-out wordless battle between Felix (played by Geoff Means) and Oscar (played by Jake Suazo) when they were giving each other the silent treatment. The body language and actions were hilarious, especially Felix spraying disinfectant on Oscar’s food. I also liked how the speed of the dialogue kept the show moving forward, as some parts of this show can seem tedious.
But this production still showed some of that tedium because the actors seemed too focused on their characters’ intense mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, leaving the group of guys too flat to be enjoyable, with the exception of Felix. I would have liked them to show more true emotions and dynamic changes. This would have made the story more fulfilling. Instead, it seemed like the actors knew that they were “supposed” to be funny, rather than just being honest enacting Neil Simon‘s script, which is already hilarious.
The set, designed by Bobby Swenson, was pretty gross—and I mean that in a good way because the show takes place in Oscar’s dirty apartment. As Felix cleaned the apartment until it practically sparkled, I enjoyed the contrast. The set was also very useful in showing the audience what was happening in the kitchen without that person knowing what was happening in the living room because of the dividing wall between the two rooms, which was cut in half, making it easy to imagine it reaching the ceiling. I also appreciated how sturdy the front door was, as the actors slammed it a few times throughout the show.
Means was, by far, the best actor in the cast. I have long been impressed by this man’s skills. (I was slightly sad to see him have to perform in this show since it’s not exactly the best plot ever. It’s funny, of course, but my husband and I agreed after seeing it this time around that nothing really happens, which can make all those funny parts seem pointless.) I loved how Means used his facial features to make Felix more outrageous than normal. He truly took the “characterization” to an absurd level with how serious he was in his role every second. For example, when Oscar invited Felix to stay in the apartment, Means made a squashed sideways face and a sound like a goose honking while shaking his head. It was startling and hilarious because of his next lines, Felix explained in a perfectly normal tone how it helped his sinuses. I also loved how Means built up to crying while talking with the two women, as it seemed so realistic, despite the comedic ridiculousness the crying added to the moment.
Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon (played by Alice Johnson and Becca Ashton) were a fun duo. They nailed the English accents and were fantastic performers. I appreciated how strong their emotions were because the they didn’t seem to be indicating, but really playing true to their characters. I loved the moment when Suazo comes in and they’re petting Mean’s hair like he was a lost puppy, and just pouring adoration on him together while yelling at Suazo in anger. It was so fun to see these two women perform together, with Ashton’s innocent looking face (despite her adventurous past) and Johnson’s motherly protectiveness and intensity with her anger.
Aside from Means, Johnson, and Ashton, who all made the show so enjoyable, I was confused by the cast in general, mostly because the group didn’t seem to fit the 1960’s. Moreover, I saw a few actors break character after saying a line they thought funny, and a few of them said lines in ways that were so artificial that it seemed the line delivery was because they were supposed to speak that way. The result was a lot of performances that lacked heart. There is a lot of dialogue in The Odd Couple, and to have it said by flat characters made the script less interesting, and key points to the story were easily missed. I would have preferred characters that were more dynamic with their emotions, and tone, particularly from Speed (played by Archelaus Crisanto), Murray (played by Bryan M. Dayley), and Vinnie (played by Daniel Hess). For example, during the talk about Felix and his life, I would have liked to actually feel like these friends cared about Felix. Instead, it seemed that Speed was frantic, Murray was annoyed, and Vinnie was scared. Every line was the same emotion, mostly at the same level of emotion.
Overall, The Odd Couple is funny enough to deliver the laughs, but I would prefer to see something that either provides me with a new understanding of its world and characters, or at least has a cathartic ending. There are a lot of great moments in this show’s acting, directing, and humor, so nearly everyone will find parts of it enjoyable. But those parts failed to combine into a show I could completely enjoy.