Best just forget about it, that old 1970s television sitcom by the same title. That would be comparing sushi to sardines. Not the same animal. No laugh track here, just spontaneous fun drawn from characters more richly portrayed cast-wide.
The Tater Patch Players' show opens with four men huddled round a poker table, a fifth in the kitchen, a sixth man expected. This is the apartment of Oscar Madison (he, busy in the kitchen), the place a mess, piled under the fall-out of Madison's fairly recent divorce.
Once he emerges from the galley, Madison (played by Alex Nawrocki) confirms his failings as host and apartment keeper. To the card players he presents sandwiches all green in between. "Either very new cheese or very old meat," Madison guesses. The refrigerator is broken.
But the more urgent subject in this gambling den eclipses the menu. A sixth player, Felix Ungar (played by Andy Kippenhan) is late to the game, and he is never late. Mild-mannered, fastidious to a flaw, Ungar is off schedule, and his poker buddies sense something is badly wrong.
Madison phones Ungar’s place and talks to Ungar’s wife, only to discover she has thrown Ungar out, and Ungar has threatened to hurt himself.
When Ungar suddenly arrives to the game, his friends morph into protect mode, at once acting as if nothing is amiss while tensely perturbed their distressed friend could try to off himself among them. A poker table discussion of whether they can safely allow Ungar to be in the bathroom by himself brings laughs.
Above, The incinerated state of his prepared London broil sends Felix Ungar (left) into a date-spoiling tail spin as roommate Oscar Madison continues to chat up the Pigeon sisters, still convinced the night is young. From Act II of The Odd Couple Tater Patch production.
Act I ends with Ungar and Madison agreeing to team as roommates, a bid at survival in the face of their separate matrimonial meltdowns, bomb blasts to both. Funny as it is, this play centers on that survival bid, the push to go on living life despite a torpedo hit of hurt––something men deal with but are seldom very communicative about.
Lest you think this is an all-male show, it is not. Halfway through Act II, the delightfully British Pigeon sisters show up all giggly and provocative. These spice girls live upstairs, convinced a man is a terrible thing to waste (God bless them).
Christina Hill plays bubbly Cecily Pigeon, the divorcee´. Lynn Mulkey plays brassy widow Gwendolyn Pigeon with a dead-on British accent. You may remember Mulkey as Truvie, the beauty shop owner in the Tater Patch production of Steel Magnolias. Altogether a different persona for this role, Mulkey proves her versatility.
Both ladies are fun. Between them they inject the strongest 1960s flavor of the whole play. A period piece, in fact, the play also draws on dated props and some price references to place the action in the 60s.
Each member of this well-chosen cast is strong in the role performed. Close-synchronized interplay delivers laughs and moves the action at a clipping pace. A three-act play, this production is so well paced it never drags (kudos for direction by Mama Tater Nan Nawrocki).
Worthy of special mention is the performance by Kenneth Farmer, newly returned to Tater Patch after years away. Farmer's profoundly believable delivery of dead-pan straight arrow Murray the Cop had me wishing Tater Patch would cast him as a sleuth in some dark detective piece.
Funny this funny play should have such a pointed point: finding courage to get on with life in the face of disappointment. When Ungar balks on proceeding upstairs to capitalize on what promises to be a hopping double date with the Pigeon sisters, Madison confronts.
"What happened to the new Felix? Is this the Felix Ungar you're gonna be for the rest of your life?"
"We are what we are," Ungar replies with heavy stoicism.
Madison throws open the apartment window to offer a diving board. "It's 12 floors, not 11," he advises.
You have to keep living to make life worth keeping.
The Odd Couple continues through this weekend with Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. on the boards of the new Tater Patch playhouse off of Old Philadelphia Road behind WalMart. (Hallelujah for superb acoustics and cushioned theater seats!) Tickets are available at the box office or on line at taterpatchplayers.org. Cost is $15 for adults, $14 for seniors (60+) and $13 for students.