The Odd Couple

City Theatre's revival suffers from being neither a replica of the original nor a fresh interpretation

Yin rooming with yang: Scot Friedman as Felix and Rick Smith as Oscar
Yin rooming with yang: Scot Friedman as Felix and Rick Smith as Oscar
Photo by Aleks Ortynski

The Odd Couple

City Theatre, 3823-D Airport, 512/926-6747
Through Mar. 30
Running time: 2 hr., 15 min.

Anyone hearing the buzz about the upcoming (and updated) CBS pilot of Neil Simon's classic The Odd Couple may be disappointed to learn that this City Theatre Company production is firmly rooted in the previous century. Simon's script seems virtually unchanged from 1965, with dated references to the Playboy Club, Steve and Eydie, and period music, including Shirley Ellis' "The Name Game," placing this piece squarely in its era of origin. But to what purpose? Let's be honest: Simon is popular, but he's no Shakespeare, and this show does little to sway me from that opinion.

One aspect of the production that might have been enlivened by this kind of devotion to period authenticity is the set. Had scenic designer Andy Berkovsky chosen to give this bachelor pad the Spike Jonze treatment, with mod geometry and those eye-popping sherbet colors of the era, it might have helped the dialogue seem adorably kitsch. When female characters Gwendolyn and Cecily come to call for dinner, their fabulous beehive hairdos are our only visual link to the swinging Sixties. Mostly, we're in drab Seventies territory, complete with dreadful landscape paintings. Then again, maybe I'm just bitter at the suggestion that journalists have bad taste in art.

Ah yes, a pair of yin and yang reporters who are roommates – that's essentially what we have here: Apollo and Dionysus, Plato and Aristotle, Felix and Oscar. If you were alive at all in the Seventies, it is unlikely you missed Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in their career-defining roles on the ABC series that ran for five seasons. But theatergoers would be wise to set aside any preconceived ideas about how these roles should be cast. With regard to the two leads, director Karen Sneed's approach is scattershot. As Felix, Scot Friedman is a near-match for Randall, but as Oscar, the bespectacled Rick Smith seems an odd choice. Scotch in hand, he comes off more professor than proletariat – a cerebral Noam Chomsky rather than a sporty Bob Costas, and a bit of a hard sell as the slovenly and relaxed sportswriter. Muddying the waters further in the tableau of poker players that opens the show is the fact that Lance Barnett, playing Murray the cop, is a dead ringer for Klugman.

In the final analysis, this production lacks a unified vision. I find myself wanting either an entirely new interpretation or a perfect replica of the original, and City Theatre's staging suffers from being neither – though clearly many in the audience would disagree with me. For patrons of a certain age and persuasion, looking for light entertainment and in the grip of nostalgia, The Odd Couple might prove to be just what the doctor ordered.

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The Odd Couple, Austin theatre, City Theatre Company, Andy Berkovsky, Karen Sneed, Scot Friedman, Rick Smith

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