Theater News

Oscar and Felix: Still Crazy After All These Years

Lenita D. Williamson finds that familiarity breeds laughter in CATCO’s production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.

Ed Vaughan andJonathan Putnam inCATCO's The Odd Couple(Photo: Rycus Associates)
Ed Vaughan and
Jonathan Putnam in
CATCO’s The Odd Couple
(Photo: Rycus Associates)

If laughter is truly the best medicine, CATCO’s production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple is sure to cure whatever aches and pains its audiences may have–just as the play, its film version, and its TV-sitcom adaptation have been doing for 35 years.

When The Odd Couple first hit Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on March 10, 1965, the role of Oscar Madison was created by Walter Matthau and the role of Felix by Art Carney. Their poker-playing friends were portrayed by a quartet of fine character actors: Paul Dooley, Nathaniel Frey, Sidney Armus, and John Fiedler. Carole Shelley and Monica Evans, who had been auditioned by Simon in London, came to Broadway as Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon. Mike Nichols, no less, directed. Since that memorable day in the mid-’60s, audiences have been splitting their sides over the painfully familiar, antagonistic personalities of Oscar and Felix.

Perhaps one reason The Odd Couple is so accessible is that the impetus for its creation was a real life situation involving Simon’s brother, Danny. The latter had moved to California to further his career in the television industry; but, though he earned a good living on the left coast, his marriage foundered. In order to save money for alimony and child support, Danny decided to share an apartment with Roy Gerber, a theatrical agent who had also just gone through a divorce. During a business trip, Neil Simon dined at home with these two and witnessed their mismatched domestic life; he was struck by the fact that the two men engaged in the same kinds of arguments they’d previously had with their wives. Thus were Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar born.

Oscar, a recently divorced slob, invites the suicidal neat freak Felix–newly separated from his wife–to move in with him. When their wildly differing temperaments begin to cause tremendous friction, Oscar throws Felix out. (He seeks refuge with the Pigeon sisters, upstairs). By the end of the play, the audience has a hint that Felix may start to loosen up a bit and Oscar may tidy up his act. Whatever the final resolve, the play allows us to laugh at people who–to one degree or another–remind us of ourselves. Even if we have never been divorced, most of us can relate to living with someone who drives us insane. However reluctantly, we find aspects of our own personalities in Felix and Oscar. This has been a key component of the play’s enduring success.

Under the direction of Dennis Romer, CATCO’s cast comfortably rides that wave of success, resting on a sure-fire script while delivering down-to-earth, convincing performances. Jonathan Putnam’s portrayal of Felix is delightfully pathetic and frantic, while Ed Vaughan delivers a sloppy yet compassionate Oscar. The pair’s poker buddies are played by four talented actors–Jason Podplesky, Tony Roseboro, Truman Winbush, Jr., and Michael Schirtzinger–who are mainstays of the Central Ohio theater scene.

The Odd Couple is indeed an American classic, and CATCO provides performances and production values of a level high enough to justify seeing the play again, no matter how often one may have experienced it in the past.