HERB: One of the keys to enjoying a local production of The Odd Couple, Neil Simon's tour de force comedy about a slob and a hypochondriac, is to forgo all remembrance of the Lemmon/Matthau or Randall/Klugman performances. It turns out that it's not hard to do when you attend the show at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre and find "Laurel and Hardy" in the roles of Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison.
LEE: Agreed. Not once did I draw a comparison to the film, TV or Broadway leads, although I did wonder how we might've done those roles. I identified with both DDWKs (divorced dads with kids), but we'd have to flip-a-coin to see who got to play the neat freak! Maybe The Sunshine Boys is more our style...what was that about Laurel and Hardy?
HERB: Matthew Cary has the air of Stan Laurel; he's comic, a good straight man, but shy of the pathos that defines Felix Ungar. Yet, Gary Caswell's Oscar manages to carry the play with high voltage energy. He makes the show with a cast of supporting actors whose performances are uneven, sometimes manic, and oftentimes too flat for Simon's great lines.
LEE: Hmm, I didnt' catch the Stan Laurel vibe, but Caswell certainly carried the first act and both he and Cary were particulary funny at the top of the second -- often without saying a word. Not sure what Director Don Bluth might have told them during intermission, but it worked.
HERB: Of the supporting cast, Frank Aaron and Tom Endicott are more believable members of Oscar's poker club, but I see no signs of a New York cop in Brandon Sibetang's Murray.
LEE: I thought Murray was okay -- except his uniform needed a patch and a badge. Endicott's Vinnie was too close to Felix's manic manner for me. I think propmeister Austin Beggs deserved a shout out as Matt Crosby's stand-in for Speed. (Crosby directed Wait Until Dark which opened the same night in Mesa, but he'll be back on stage by May 1.)
HERB: Lapses in detail can be distracting, and there were a few. If you're going to smoke a cigar, know how to hold it and how to puff. If you're going to have a copy of the New York Times, you might want it to reflect a contemporary headline rather than a lead story on the League of Nations. If Felix is going to show the Pigeon sisters a picture of his children, the photo shouldn't be of two adults. And so it goes.
LEE: Glad I'm not the only one being nitpicky. The tea foam in the bourbon bottle was distracting enough, but when Bluth cast a high school sophomore as the youngest Pigeon sister, it was a little creepy seeing her as date bait for Caswell and Cary.
HERB: Bottom line...attention to detail, adjustments in timing, less flailing, and more refinement of the characters! And in a few weeks, more than Caswell will merit a standing ovation.
LEE: Hey, that's the same advice Bluth gave Fievel in An American Tail! Wouldn't Caswell have made a great Tiger the Cat? As for me, I'm looking forward to going back and seeing how Crosby plays Speed. You coming?