Felix Unger became Oscar Madison’s roommate nearly 50 years ago, but it’s the incapacitatingly funny conversations between the fussy neat freak and the carefree slob that has made “The Odd Couple” a gold-standard comedy.
Consider the following exchange:
Felix: “I put order in this house. For the first time in months, you’re saving money. You’re sleeping on clean sheets. You’re eating hot meals for a change. And I did it.”
Oscar: “Yes, that’s right. And then at night, after we’ve had your halibut steak and your tartar sauce, I have to spend the rest of the evening watching you Saran Wrap the leftovers.”
Felix: "It’s not spaghetti, it’s linguine."
Oscar, after hurling the linguine plate against a wall: "Now it’s garbage."
“‘The Odd Couple’ has wonderfully hilarious wordplay,” said Eric Jensen, director of the CenterPoint production of Neil Simon’s play. “Every word of the dialogue is precisely written and shows his genius.”
Simon had previously enjoyed success with “Come Blow Your Horn” and “Barefoot in the Park,” but “The Odd Couple” cemented him in theater history as a comedy innovator and earned him his first Tony Award. The playwright holds the record for more Tony and Oscar nominations than any other writer, and he also received a Pulitzer Prize for “Lost in Yonkers.”
However, “The Odd Couple's” witty repartee must be balanced with physically comedic antics to make it a success, Jensen said.
“I write a lot of plays for children, and I’ve learned that the actors’ words must accompany appropriate actions to sell the comedy,” he said. “What I am for is something physical from the actors that you don’t see coming.”
The director calls these staged moments “exclamation points” that further the humor.
One line delivered by Felix — “Dinner is served” — is humorous when spoken as a proper butler, Jensen said, “but the line becomes hysterical when Oscar shows his exasperation by bonking Felix on the head right afterward. There needs to be jokes without words that will still tell the story.”
The actors he has cast in these lead roles — Patrick Harris as Felix and Rusty Bringhurst as Oscar — “are giving me exactly what is needed” to make the play uproarious theater, he said.
“They are perhaps a bit younger than actors you’d typically (see) playing these characters,” he said. “But because of their youth, they are spry and move well on stage while still playing the roles as written. We put in a bit of a chase scene to capitalize on their agility.”
Jensen said that through these performances, “Some scenes appear to be acted out in real life, like you’re sitting alongside them in their living rooms. The lines just seem to come out of them naturally.”
If you go ...
What: “The Odd Couple”
Where: CenterPoint Legacy Theatre's Leishman Performance Hall, 525 N. 400 West, Centerville
When: June 13-July 5 on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m.
How much: $15