By Jordan Zeitler
The Alpha Players take on one of Neil Simon’s most popular plays, and the result is not the perfect pair you expect. “The Odd Couple” is a hard show to mess up, but somehow this production did.
The biggest problem was that Patrick Brueggen, playing the larger-than-life divorced slob Oscar Madison, struggled with his lines during the second performance. He constantly needed to take a moment to find them before continuing.
That put more pressure on the cast, including the superb Todd Micali, very funny as the obsessive clean-freak Felix Unger. Thankfully, he was there to help Brueggen.
After Felix’s wife kicks him out, he attends Oscar’s weekly poker game. Worried that he’s suicidal, Oscar allows him to stay, but didn’t think it would be a longer arrangement. Hilarity is supposed to ensue as the mismatched pair, with very different personalities, clash and deal with their conflicts as roommates.
Yet, the overall comedic timing never came together. The two-to three-minute set changes didn’t help the rhythm either.
This was such a shame because it is one of most universally beloved comedies ever.
The 1965 show became a smash hit on Broadway, starring Walter Matthau and Art Carney, and has been revived several times, and in 1985, spun off as an all-female version. It has spawned films and TV shows.
In 1968, Walter reprised the role of Oscar in the movie version, with Jack Lemmon as the fussy Felix. Two years later, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall won Emmys in a sitcom that ran for five seasons. A reboot in 2015 featured a fresh and modern look with Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon, and lasted three seasons.
People know and love these characters, and because of those dynamic duos, that’s why it remains a favorite pick for community theaters and schools, still performed in theaters all around the world.
But the chemistry was off here. Directed by Thomas Stone, the production seemed to fall flat right from the start.
The show’s opening poker scene normally delivers memorable banter and some good zingers, but the group’s comedic timing was all over the place and off-putting. While they seemed to have their lines down, the personalities of Speed, Vinnie, Murray and Roy did not click. From awkward silences to misplaced blank stares, punch lines were lost, and it created uncomfortable moments.
When Micali showed up, there was a glimmer of hope because he delivered funny line after funny line. However, his sharp delivery didn’t get the proper reactions from the ensemble.
But not for lack of Micali trying. He worked hard to keep the energy up, but it was a one-sided attempt.
His heavy-lifting couldn’t save this show, although Payton Gillam and Nori Rhodes, playing the lovable Pigeon Sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn, salvaged the double-date dinner scene. Their interaction with Felix was the evening’s highlight, but the scene was over much too soon.
Nevertheless, the show’s technical aspects were noteworthy, with Brian Borgstede’s sound design a fine complement. Thomas Stone’s set design was visually stunning, a top-notch New York apartment – and was the show’s standout.
Actors can have a bad night, and this was one performance out of six. Audiences love to laugh, and “The Odd Couple,” under usual circumstances, provides plenty. Hopefully, this cast can eventually get it together.
“The Odd Couple” runs through March 25, and performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Florissant Civic Center, 1 James J Eagan Drive, Florissant. Tickets are available in advance at the https://florissantmo.thundertix.com/.