Oddly likeable even if it is unevenly balanced
The Copenhagen Theatre Circle’s ‘Oscar and Felix: A New Look at the Odd Couple’ has the same vibe and beat as a 1990s sitcom. Micah Epstein’s Oscar Madison is a blend of Al Bundy and Jerry Seinfeld, while Raymond Shinn’s Felix Unger strikes a strong resemblance to Niles Crane from 'Frasier'.
And Neil Simon’s 2002 "rewriting with a twist" of his 1965 classic play ‘The Odd Couple’ has certainly made it more accessible to modern audiences, even though the first half was more ‘Veronica’s Closet’ than ‘Will & Grace’.
The jury’s out on whether Simon has improved his original. The topical references to Al Gore etc already sound dated eleven years later – if anything needed a 21st century jump-start, it was the pace of the card table scenes not the small talk.
Is it fair to blame the CTC for the inauspicious beginning? Possibly, but Simon’s script does them no favours. A bolder treatment might have shaved a few pages or even a few characters.
Certainly, when the card players are called to their feet, they move with purpose, reinvigorating us with their energy, but truly, this play doesn’t come alive until Oscar and Felix share the stage. Like the best marriages, it’s a union worth waiting for.
Epstein as the slovenly bachelor Oscar exudes a commanding presence and doesn’t miss a beat, but it is Unger as the fussy hypochondriac Felix who steals the show. Oscar describes him as a man so timid he “runs from street light to street light” and Unger brings this vision to life with great hilarity.
The play really comes into its own in the second half when ‘the odd couple’ invite two rather sexy Spanish sisters, Hoolya and Ynes Costazuela, over for dinner. Though the language barrier jokes were a bit overused in my opinion, their broken English is the source of much laughter in the audience as they bring a cultural authenticity to proceedings mostly lacking in the card scenes.
Sticking with the TV series references, Gloria Pritchett from ‘Modern Family’ comes to mind, and it transpires later in the bar that she was the source of inspiration for one of the actresses – who, rather surprisingly, wasn’t Hispanic.
We won’t tell you where she comes from – you’ll have to watch it and decide for yourself.