The Odd Couple with SummerStage
Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple has had a remarkably long life for light comedy. The durable 1965 stage sitcom has lasted through a 1968 film, a TV series that lasted through the first half of the 1970s and, as of this writing, two full seasons of Matthew Perry. (The third season of the contemporary CBS sitcom debuts this coming Oct. 27.) Simon himself rewrote that original stage play a couple of times, once with two women in the lead roles. Late this summer, SummerStage of Delafield goes back to the roots of the franchise with the script of the 195 original.
Nicholas Callan Haubner plays sportswriter Oscar Madison--a recently divorced man who is living alone in a large, increasingly filthy home in New York. His best friend Felix (Mark Neufang) has recently been dumped by his wife, so they move-in together. Oscar is a laid-back slob. Felix is a neurotic clean-freak. The two get on each other’s nerves. It’s such a primal and basic premise that Simon didn’t need to do much beyond the basic set-up. Thankfully, he didn’t. The 1965 original keeps things simple and allows the actors and the director to take the pacing, mood and delivery of the comedy in whatever direction they want.
There’s a large ensemble around the two central characters. Director Brian D. Zelinski does a good job of juggling the characters in the background, but the comedy is a little hit-or-miss. Sometimes Simon has a good line that doesn’t quite come out right and sometimes the cast manages to improve on the weaker moments in Simon’s script.
The cast of poker buddies and the two neighbor women all do a solid job of working through the material, but the rhythm of Simon’s patchy light comedy can be difficult to follow when it’s not terribly good. This is largely inconsequential as Haubner and Neufang have such a compelling dynamic together in the center of the story. Haubner’s New York accent may not be perfectly executed, but his mastery of the mood, motion and emotion of the character is almost perfect. Everything onstage feels very authentic with him. Even some of the more awkward and stilted moments of comedy in the script come from a very organic place with Haubner, which is a lot of fun to watch, especially in interactions with Neufang’s Felix.
It’s really satisfying to see Neufang in the role of a precise and precisely neurotic guy. His diction is crisp. His movements are tidy. His voice comes across with unwavering fragility. The character rides a razor’s edge of dichotomy. He’s so extremely sensitive that it’s an act of heroic will just to walk around in an imperfect world, let alone try to clean any of it. He must seem at once helpless and confident--meek and overbearing. Neufang balances the character’s extremes with great poise. Nuefang is a comically towering house of cards in the role, which plays a nice contrast against Haubner’s pragmatic, earthbound sloppiness. Not everything works here, but Haubner and Neufang do and that’s what’s important in a light comedy that serves as an excellent exit to the outdoor theatre season.
SummerStage’s production of The Odd Couple runs through Sep. 10 at Lapham Peak State Park in Delafield. For more information, visit Summer Stage of Delafield online.