Classic Neil Simon, classic laughs

BY ELLEN HARRIS | JUNE 08, 2009 7:26 AM

Sum: If you remember Ovaltine, Old Creamery Theatre Company’s “The Odd Couple” offers a dated but ultimately entertaining experience.

American playwright Neil Simon wrote what is arguably his most famous play, “The Odd Couple,” in 1965, and the Old Creamery Theatre Company in Amana stayed true to that feel-good era in their production of the piece, which runs through June 28.

The plot is classic: A divorced man welcomes his soon-to-be divorced friend (surprisingly, one is messy and one is tidy), into his home, where passive-aggressive behavior reigns until there’s an inciting incident (women…it’s always women) that causes them to, uh, break up.

The men in question are Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar, played by two of Old Creamery’s stage favorites, Tom Milligan and Sean McCall. McCall plays Felix with the perfect blend of neurosis and sensitivity, while Milligan’s divorced, broke and sloppy Oscar is blunt and compelling, a guy’s guy kind of guy.

As with several members of the company, Milligan himself wears many hats: Not only does he star in the show, he’s also the Production Manager. McCall is no slacker, either. As both the company’s Associate Artistic Director and their liaison to the Actor’s Equity Association (meaning that the company holds professional staus in the theater world), he acted as a spokesperson, leading the charge during the cast’s “thank you” line post-performance.

There is an evident lack of stagehands during scene transitions. While mid-century tunes like Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” played, stage manager Marquetta Senters waltzed from table to chair to couch, hurriedly making set changes.

Senters is a true Old Creamery vet. After a college internship led her to the theater’s original home in Garrison in 1978, Senters remained involved as an actress, a costumer and, most recently, as a stage manager. Why her dedication? “I love it here. The people are just so much fun to work with.”

That sense of fun permeated every scene. Neil Simon’s clever turn-of-phrase and the thoughtful line-delivery from the actors made the audience smile through the two-hour performance.

Area semi-celebrities Dennis Green (of Jazz 88.3), Ric Swann (half of Z102.9’s Schulte and Swann) and Joe Jennison (of the Cultural Corridor Alliance) kept the laughs rolling as wise-cracking poker buddies, but fourth member Steve Weiss was especially endearing as the simple and earnest Vinnie.

A team they may be, and individual performances were outstanding, but there was a decided lack of cohesion between the cast members. Given the timeline they were working on, it was understandable: When I saw the show, they’d been up for less than a week, with only fourteen days between first read-through and first curtain. Hopefully they can pull it together for the remaining performances.

This production doesn’t stray from the original script. Whether paying homage to Simon’s concept (or perhaps the ensemble was simply too strapped for time to discuss other interpretations), this cast stuck to 1960s characterizations and setting with gung-ho determination. References to the Cincinnati Kid, Ovaltine, and automats pepper the dialogue, entertaining the target audience of bus tourists and older area denizens (I was the youngest audience member by about 50 years).

Some of the humor, however, is timeless. Near the end of the second act, Oscar, totally fed up with Felix’s cooking, cleaning and crying, yells, “I can’t stand little notes on my pillow! ‘We’re all out of cornflakes. F.U.’ Took me three hours to figure out ‘F.U.’ was ‘Felix Ungar’!”

I couldn’t stop laughing.

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