ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I must confess I was not initially that excited about the prospect of viewing yet another Neil Simon production at the Adobe Theater so soon after seeing “The Sunshine Boys” there last summer. But the Adobe’s current rendition of “The Odd Couple” is so well done and so funny I soon forgot any reservations I might have had.
“The Odd Couple” opened on Broadway in 1965 in a production directed by the now legendary Mike Nichols and starring the great comic actors Art Carney and Walter Matthau. Matthau reprised the role of the lovable slob Oscar Madison in the 1968 movie opposite Jack Lemmon as the fastidious neat freak Felix. So any production of “The Odd Couple” must stand up to the inevitable comparisons — not to mention the 1970s TV show starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.
In the play, Simon is confronting via comedy what was at the time a troubling new phenomenon in American life, a phenomenon that we’ve now sadly gotten used to: divorce. What makes the show so interesting is that Oscar and Felix take on all the dynamics of a married couple themselves after Felix moves in with his best friend after his wife throws him out. In fact Felix even tells his friend toward the end of the play, “Oscar, we can’t stand each other, let’s break up.” So, divorce follows divorce. But as the directors write in the program notes: this tragic topic has never been so funny.
The Adobe production is expertly directed and designed by Tish and Mike Miller. It is said that 90 percent of a director’s job is casting, and the Millers have assembled an excellent cast. Vernon Poitras has the formidable task of following Matthau as Oscar, and he does a brilliant job, his body language, facial expressions, and peculiar vocal mannerisms all contributing to the success of the character. Likewise, George A. Williams is entirely believable as the neurotic and perhaps suicidal Felix.
Much of the play’s humor ensues from the entrance of the Pigeon sisters, who take their first names from Oscar Wilde’s equally funny play “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Oscar wants to get in bed with either Cecily or Gwendolyn and to “have some laughs.” But when he enters the room with drinks a few minutes after the girls’ arrival he finds all three sobbing obstreperously. It is this scene above all that drives Oscar to homicidal madness and ruptures the friends’ relationship beyond repair.
Lacey Bingham and Maureen Conheady-Trujillo are very good as Cecily and Gwendolyn, although I am not sure why only Cecily spoke with a British accent. Simon is clearing riffing on Wilde’s classic comedy and both need to render their dialogue in the appropriate British dialect.
The rest of the supporting cast successfully mines the humor in the poker scenes, with especially nice work from Jeff Hudson as Roy.
Neil Simon is easily one of the most produced playwrights year after year, and “The Odd Couple” is one of his best plays. If you’ve never seen a good production of this play, or want to see another one, this is the show for you. Playing through March 6. Go to adobetheater.org or call 898-9222 for reservations.