By Émer O’Toole
Half Wits, Webster’s Theatre
New theatre group, Half Wits’ take on Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple proves a friendship can be just as infuriating as a marriage.
The time is 1965, the place: New York, and Oscar Madison’s pigsty of an apartment is everything you would expect from a stereotypical bachelor: left-over rubbish from last week’s poker game, lampshades askew, clothes strewn everywhere and no air conditioning because Oscar doesn’t bother to fix it (he just opens a window and let’s in warm summer air).
Oscar (Peter Paterson) is certainly a cliché of an unmarried man – he wears a baseball cap askew on his head and is still somewhat baffled about how to live on his own. He takes minimal interest in housekeeping or food safety (“I have brown sandwiches or green sandwiches,” he announces) and hosts a regular poker game with his male friends. When one of the guys says he needs a wife, he responds, “How can I afford a wife when I can’t even afford a broom?”
In the long opening sequence, Felix (Stewart Macdougall), just kicked out by a wife driven mad by his endless tidying, checks into a hotel to commit suicide, then seeks refuge with Oscar. The characteristics that drove each of them to leave their wives (they both semi-accidentally call each other by their ex-wives’ names) soon have them at each other’s throats. Felix is a neurotic neat freak, while Oscar is a cigar-smoking, compulsive slob.
The play debuted on Broadway in 1965 featuring Art Carney and Walter Matthau and lead to the 1968 film starring Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau reprising his role as Oscar Madison. The film’s success was followed with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as the respective roles in the classic 1970s television series. Simon has twice rewritten or updated The Odd Couple with The Female Odd Couple in 1985 and Oscar and Felix: A New Look at The Odd Couple in 2004.
Everything “broils” over in the third act when Oscar invites two English divorcees, with names straight out of Oscar Wilde, Gwendolyn and Cecily Pidegeon, over for a double date. Felix insists on cooking a London Broil dinner for them, but the evening goes wrong when he tells the women about how much he misses his wife and family, impressing Gwendolyn and Cecily with his sensitivity. Soon all three are crying, and Oscar realizes his dream of dating one of them is over.
The engaging sisters, primly proper Gwendolyn (Elizabeth Kane) and flirtatious but tightly wound Cecily (Jade Kelly) contribute hilarious caricatures to the production.
The bar for what qualified as “odd” in 1965, we so easily forget, was not so high. A couple of unrelated men living together qualified — especially if one of them actually liked to clean, could cook up a tasty London broil and found it easy to cry in front of people. However, it still endures in 2018 and overall, this is a wonderful offering of Simon’s Broadway classic.