The Odd Couple is a good match for Miners Alley

There's not a lot of nourishment in Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, which premiered on Broadway in 1965, spawned a film and television show, and is now showing at Miners Alley. But the central pairing of two very different men who find themselves sharing an apartment, and the humorous way their fights and misunderstandings mirror those of regular marriage — or at least marriage as it was viewed at the time — still has some juice. Felix is the stereotypical little wife, constantly cooking, cleaning and fussing about clutter; the only things he's missing are high heels and a starched apron. Oscar's the manly, sports-loving slob. Both are well off, which is a good thing, since neither ever seems to do a lick of work, though we do learn that Oscar's a sportswriter and Felix is in news.

Having lived on his own since his divorce, Oscar has turned his large apartment into a pigsty. Even his poker buddies complain about the filth and the ancient chips and rotting sandwiches he offers. Felix has been part of the group for years, but on this particular night he's late. Turns out his wife has kicked him out and is demanding a divorce. We soon understand why: The man is a self-pitying, persnickety, suicidal hypochondriac who melts down like a toddler when he's crossed, and Oscar soon regrets inviting him to move in.

The play is tidily constructed and skillfully written, and the dialogue zings happily and speedily along. It does show its age, however, and director Robert Kramer was wise not to update or tinker with it. To enjoy it, you just have to accept the clichés about male-female roles, and it helps if you remember a time when cream cheese on date-nut bread was considered a brilliant culinary innovation — which I'm guessing most of the audience did on the night I attended. Period songs accompany scene changes (which are executed with such verve that the audience applauded one of them); Felix hums The Girl From Ipanema as he tidies; and the guy next to me actually sang along with Roger Miller on King of the Road.

Though there's no real emotional depth, we do get occasional hints that, despite their differences, Felix and Oscar have shared a long, genuine and valued friendship. The script also suggests the distress and loneliness of divorce, and the difficulties divorced people sometimes find in reshaping their lives.

The gang of poker misfits all get lively performances. Sam Gilstrap indicates a little too much as Murray, but he's also very appealing; there's some nice understatement from Ryan Goold as Roy; Greg Alan West's Vinnie is an endearing shlub. Scott Cuzac Tuffield has the kind of comic macho Craig T. Nelson conveyed in the TV sitcom Coach, and has such a strong presence that he can grab audience attention with just a roll of his eyes. If he'd take his performance down a notch, I think it would have an even bigger effect.

Named Gwendolyn and Cecily in an apparent nod to Oscar Wilde, the Pigeon Sisters are a fine cooing and fluttering comic creation. Missy Moore and Samara Bridwell do well with the English accents, and Moore in particular has the posture and mannerisms of a certain kind of Englishwoman down pat. Both are very funny, though they could slow down a bit.

But, of course, Oscar and Felix have to carry the evening, and indeed they do. Len Matheo as Oscar and James O'Hagan Murphy as Felix are terrific individually and extremely good together. Matheo doesn't overdo Oscar. Sure, the guy's a lazy slob, but he's good-natured and low-key rather than loud and obnoxious — at least until he loses his temper. This is a good choice, because it provides an interesting counterpoint to O'Hagan Murphy, whose Felix is crazy high energy and a natural scene-stealer. He gives us all the finicky repression we expect, but also a sense of something messier and less definable trying constantly to break through.

So who cares about the play's lack of emotional or intellectual sustenance? Sometimes Swedish meatballs, cheese puffs and Lipton onion-soup dip are just what you're craving.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman