By Dale King
Just Google “The Odd Couple” and you’ll find that Neil Simon’s 1965 comedy is still being produced for television. It’s the seventh screen incarnation for Simon’s 52-year-old Broadway baby, an assemblage that includes a 1968 movie, a cartoon adaption and a reunion film — not to mention a female-version stage play.
The current CBS sitcom stars Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon as divorcees whose ex-wives are named Gaby and Ashley — a contemporary upgrade from the original ex’s names, Blanche and Frances.
In spite of this Odd Couple plethora, the unfettered, unchanged and unforgettable first-of-its-kind production — complete with a red rotary dial phone and the never-heard-from-again Pigeon Sisters — has come around once more, this time at the Delray Beach Playhouse. Opening weekend drew sold-out crowds for matinees and evening performances.
Nearly two generations after it opened on Broadway, the show that heaps crisp, sharply funny lines atop a gaggle of sight gags and a flexible plot line is still good for lots of laughs.
For the uninitiated, The Odd Couple mismatches slovenly, carefree Oscar Madison (Mark Hetelson) with neat freak, neurotic Felix Ungar (Michael Coppola), who seeks refuge at his messy pal’s New York flat after being thrown out by his wife. Divorcee Oscar thinks he can provide a refuge for his frazzled, soon-to-be-divorced friend, but he quickly finds that two antithetical personalities cannot live under one roof and maintain a shred of sanity.
What follows is a series of spotless-vs. sloppy-themed antics that mess with Oscar’s life and lifestyle, his dining habits and the normally fun poker game involving buddies Speed (Jim McConville), Murray the cop (Omar Robau), Roy (Steven Feldman) and Vinnie (Steven Fireman). They quickly discover that card playing just doesn’t mix well with bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches with the crusts cut off, mandatory coasters under wet beverage glasses and a pure-a-tron machine keeping the air as clean as the surroundings. Then, there’s Felix’s ensemble of nasal snorts and whines that grates on Oscar’s nerves.
Many Odd Couple idiosyncrasies grew out of the original play, but have been repackaged, redrafted, rewritten and augmented as the concept grew and adjusted. Perhaps the Tony Randall-Jack Klugman duo, paired in the 1970s TV show, remains closest to the personalities in Simon’s original play. (Klugman actually performed in the Broadway stage production). Newer incarnations have given Felix and Oscar a redo that just doesn’t seem quite Simonesque.
Veteran Delray Playhouse artistic director Randolph DelLago, who also directs this play, pulls together a combination of DBP favorites and newcomers to the local stage to come up with an entertaining show.
Hetelson, the man who brings Oscar to life, has trod the Delray stage for some 20 years and shows no signs of stopping. He portrays Oscar using a bevy of emotions, from slyly whimsical through thoughtfully reticent to red-faced with anger.
The face behind Felix is new to the Delray stage. Michael Coppola is a New Englander with experience on stage, in indie and feature films and television commercials. He portrays a more subdued Felix, often quiet and deeper than other portrayals. Yet he is emotional when necessary, and has a knack for the slow burn — particularly important when giving Oscar his due.
Coppola mixes superbly with familiar DPB actresses Kari Budyk and Forman Lauren, who show up as the scatterbrained, wildly loopy Pigeon Sisters — two Brits, one a widow, the other a divorcee. The ladies portray the Pigeons as coo-coo, they say — perfect targets for Oscar’s lustful intentions.
The two actresses overplay their Pigeon roles well, exactly as the author required. Both players have been seen at DBP before. Hetelson, Budyk and Lauren were all in the cast of The Sensuous Senator which opened the current season.
The four poker players are all great character actors and give life to the otherwise pokey game with great one-liners and sarcastic observations.
The Odd Couple plays through Feb. 19 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. (Lake Shore Drive), Delray Beach. All tickets are $30 and may be purchased online at delraybeachplayhouse.com or by calling 561-272-1281, Ext. 4.