The Odd Couple

by | May 24, 2024

By Jessica Taurins

The concept of The Odd Couple is strange in modern media. The writing leaves the women vapid and the men misogynistic, with only a few scraps of personality handed out to each of the side characters. The main character lives alone in an eight-room apartment and only needs one roommate to help pay the rent. The meat for a London broil only costs $9.13!!

Most frustratingly, the central conceit is that one man (interested in sports, women, and not taking care of his kid) living with another man (who enjoys domestic tasks, lounge design, and is openly emotional) is a strange and weird thing. The characters play at a parody of marriage, but nowadays a non-heterosexual marriage isn’t exactly uncommon, so the culmination of the story where they call each other by their wives names as they move apart feels a little bizarre and dated.

Luckily, all of that melts away as the ensemble cast come together to present an outrageously funny show.

From the very opening act, the charm of 1960s New York pours off the stage and across the audience. A group of old friends sit around the table playing poker and yammering at each other, a cacophony of rhubarb-rhubarb-rhubarb as potato chips are tossed to the ground and plastic chips move across the table.

Roy (John Batchelor), Speed (Laurence Coy), Vinnie (Jamie Oxenbould), and Murray (Anthony Taufa) as the poker friends are a real joy to watch. The foursome play well off each other in addition to the odd couple themselves Oscar (Shane Jacobson) and Felix (Todd McKenney), and their dedication to background action really brings the scenes to life. The guys move in unison when stunned and pull hysterical faces when Jacobson and McKenney are the main focus – Batchelor’s rubber face is hilarious to see even when the guys have no written dialogue.

The sense of life extends to the set as well, wonderfully designed by Justin Nardella. Oscar’s apartment is untidy but not disgusting – aside from the kitchen, which is kept just out of our view – and decorated with a lifetime of stuff. There are photos of his family, of sports teams, a baseball bat and trophy that perhaps he won, or perhaps he got in his role as a sports writer. Oscar has couch cushions that aren’t his style – suggesting they came from his wife – as well as other bits and pieces of decor that really make his apartment feel like a lived-in home. When the clothes on the ground are tidied and the rotting food is kept in the kitchen, Nardella’s set feels just like a modern home, if a little more two-dimensional.

The costume design by Billy Roache also contributes to the liveliness of the show. Oscar is schlubby but not unclean, wearing a team shirt and a baseball cap. Felix has only one outfit that is well-fitting and tightly kept, belaying his need for everything to be just so. The Pigeon girls Cecily (Lucy Durack) and Gwendolyn (Penny McNamee) are incredibly dressed in gaudy 60s dresses, with hair up to the ceiling (by wig designer Michele Skeete) and bring an effortless brightness to all of their scenes.

Durack and McNamee’s characters are thin, just like the poker boys, but as actors they manage to bring depth to the roles through their physicality. The Pigeon sisters are soft and empathetic towards poor soon-to-be-divorced Felix, and relate a great deal more to his emotion than to Oscar’s gruff masculinity. The sisters only have a small role to play, but it highlights the difference even more between the two men.

As for the couple themselves, Jacobson and McKenney are fantastic. After having worked together on a recent production of Hairspray as the Turnblad parents, their camaraderie is such an obvious inspiration for their performances. The Odd Couple is not all comedy, with Simon’s trademark cleverly written darkness threaded through as well. After all, divorce is not always a happy situation for one, or even both people in the marriage.

For all of the double entendres and witticisms, there are wonderful serious moments between the characters as well. Jacobson and McKenney play off each other so well, exponentially increasing their frantic energy as the show comes to its crescendo. McKenney’s Felix is, yes, a little bit pathetic, but even though his actions are frustrating, McKenney sells that he so dearly loved his wife and his near-suicidal sadness comes from a very realistic place. Jacobson’s Oscar is loud, and a bit obnoxious, and a bit untidy, but Jacobson’s warmth makes him a real person, and his knack for comedic timing ensures that his cleverly written lines always hit the mark.

Despite The Odd Couple perhaps reading a little dated nowadays, this performance is enormously enjoyable and well worth the watch. Stereotypical gender stereotypes aside, the genuine connection between the performers and the fantastic calibre of actors ensures this will be a great night out for audience members of all ages.

Images: Pia Johnson

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