THE ODD COUPLE – Written by Neil Simon; Directed by Dwayne Carrington. Produced by Firehouse Theatre Company (7653 East 1st Place on Lowry, Denver) through December 17. Tickets available at 303-562-3232 or firehousetheatercompany.com.
There is a certain comfort in watching a favorite movie over and over or bingeing on a TV program you saw when it first came out. It’s the same with plays as well. You know the story; you’ve heard the jokes; it’s just fun watching different people perform the familiar dialogue. And if you know Neil Simon, you know there are going to be a lot of one-liners you’ve probably forgotten that will still make you laugh. This is what we have going on at Firehouse for this holiday season. A look back at a familiar story with a tiny twist.
The twist being that good ol’ rumpled up Oscar is being played by Jeff Jesmer, a handsome White man while gorgeous Black man Don Randle is doing up-tight Felix. Not too surprisingly, the use of a mixed race cast does not seem to call for adjustments to the script or to the acting. I can remember only one little reference to race in an added joke about Felix having a brother. Both men are versatile enough to have played either role; for a short time, there had been conversation about having them learn both roles and alternate on every other performance.
Jeff Jesmer is an compelling actor who excels in playing characters who are perhaps slightly confused about what’s going on or gently taking on the romantic lead in a show. In a recent review, he was described as “being at ease in a room.” An accurate and insightful description which suits this particular role. Oscar has broad enough shoulders to take on who he knows in advance is going to be a difficult roommate. He copes longer than most would, but when he explodes, there’s blood on the walls. Oh, wait – that’s not blood! That’s linguini!!
Don Randell had to work hard to muffle his personal manliness to create a fragile and needy Felix. It doesn’t seem to quite fit him in early scenes, but he warms up considerably during his scenes with the female visitors and especially in the last scene when he is allowed to gloat a little and soften his self-condemnation.
Both Oscar and Felix love their Friday night poker games. They are joined in these evenings by four buddies from the hood: Matt Hindmarch as Murray, Allistair Basse as Speed, Ian Scott as Vinney, and Lisa Wolf as Roy (a part usually played by a man). Their rough camaraderie illustrates a long history of friendship as they banter and bitch. But their concern for the missing Felix and their care of him when he finally arrives is genuine and displays the best of male bonding. Even when there’s a woman involved.
The Pigeon sisters from upstairs who join Felix and Oscar for dinner but never quite get around to eating are delightfully cast with Yasmine Hunter and LaDios Muhammad. They arrive ready to party hardy yet can’t quite understand what they have walked into as Felix fumes about his burnt London broil and Oscar fusses over drinks. In their final scene, they turn on Oscar and coddle Felix to absolutely dumbfound the card players. Their English accents may be a little over the top, but easily forgiven.
Not only does Jeff act in the production, but he also built the well decorated set. Fittings and furniture provided by Prop Designer Kate Small create a warm if slightly untidy setting – at least, until Felix gets his hands on the Hoover. Rick Reid’s sound design is authentic as always, providing music from the era and the sound track from the original movie and TV series as lead in to both acts. The costumes by Rachel Finley help identify the working class players.
If you are a Neil Simon fan, if you like to laugh, if you haven’t seen this duo at work for a few years, you’re in for a treat with the Firehouse production.
A WOW factor of 8.5!