When it comes to the American theater lexicon, Neil Simon is one of the masters. With a razor sharp wit and comedic depth his comedies are a laugh-riot, but hint at a much larger well of feeling just below the surface.
It’s easy to play his works just for laughs, but getting into the reality of the situation is the aim at Miners Alley Playhouse’s production of Simon’s classic “The Odd Couple.”
Miners Alley, 1224 Washington Ave., will be hosting “The Odd Couple” from July 18 through Aug. 24. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m.
“It is absolutely one of Simon’s funniest plays — you watch it and you feel like you’re part of a laugh track because it just doesn’t stop,” said Len Matheo, who plays Oscar Madison. “The show is iconic that you have to honor the people who came before you while creating your own character.”
The story, directed by Robert Kramer, follows Oscar (Matheo), a sloppy sportswriter, and Felix Ungar (James O’Hagan-Murphy), a high strung news writer who is going through a divorce.
“He’s not handling everything he’s going through very well,” O’Hagan-Murphy said. “There have been a lot of portrayals of this character and for me I just have to try to put myself in his spot.”
When Felix moves in with Oscar, and the two clash right away. Oscar is free with his money, gambles and doesn’t care much — if indeed at all — about the state of his home. Mix that with Felix’s tendency to point out the faults in everything he sees, and it becomes a combustible combination quickly.
Rounding out the cast is Scott Cuzac Tuffield as Speed, Sam Gilstrap as Murray, Ryan Goold as Roy, Greg Alan West as Vinnie, Missy Moore as Gwendolyn and Samara Bridwell as Cecily.
Matheo — who himself is from New York — said the production has a very “New York” vibe, something he is fluent in.
“The dialogue just has this great, fast rhythm that really taps into New York for me,” he said. “You see the play, and you get transported to another place.”
“The Odd Couple” premiered in 1965 and the Miners Alley production is staying true to that time and place, through use of both sets and costumes. One of the best ways of conveying that particular time is the language, something both Matheo and O’Hagan-Murphy are keenly aware of.
“The script hasn’t been modernized because the dialogue really lends itself to the time,” O’Hagan-Murphy said. “Because of the time, modern men would be more sensitive than these ones are, but I think Felix is kind of a bridge in that gap.”
“The Odd Couple” is only as good as the actors playing Oscar and Felix, and both Matheo and O’Hagan-Murphy have spoken extremely highly of each other as actors.
“One of the joys of this process has been working with James (O’Hagan-Murphy),” Matheo said.
Both leads said that for a hilarious evening of theater, “The Odd Couple” is the best bet around.
“If you haven’t seen the show, you need to,” O’Hagan-Murphy said. “If you have, every performer brings something different and for ours I think we hit the feelings behind the laughs.”
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