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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More The Odd Couple
Arts Review
The Odd Couple
Director Don Toner serves his Austin Playhouse revival of The Odd Couple well by turning its wonderful characters over to wonderful character actors

Robert Faires, April 14, 2006

Improvising Every Second
Improvising Every Second
The secret history of ACoT director Latifah Taormina, from Second City to the Committee and beyond

Lowell Bartholomee, March 10, 2006

More Austin theatre
Valoneecia Tolbert Geeks Out in <i>Tales of a Blerd Ballerina</i>
Valoneecia Tolbert Geeks Out in Tales of a Blerd Ballerina
The actress looks back at what it was to be young, geeky, and Black

Robert Faires, April 9, 2021

Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
When is violence in theatre too much?

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 9, 2016

More Arts Reviews
Review: Steel Magnolias
Review: Steel Magnolias
City Theatre finds the Southern comfort in this tear-jerking dramedy

Bob Abelman, March 17, 2023

Theatre Review: Austin Playhouse's Nightbird
Review: Nightbird
A timely treatise on the space between Black America's past, present, and future

Bob Abelman, March 10, 2023

More by Stacy Alexander Evans
One With Others
Karen Sherman's surprisingly funny, moving dance and text work was poetry in motion

May 2, 2014

Romeo and Juliet
Despite some casting questions, the Baron's Men create a moving and involving version of this well-known tragedy

April 18, 2014


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

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle