The Odd Couple
Good friends don't make best of roommates
By EMILY REILY
Special to the Union Leader | March 08. 2017 12:44PM
The Leddy Center for the Performing Arts’ Epping production of Neil Simon’s comic masterpiece “The Odd Couple” stars Richard Reniere, Tom Gauthier, Greg deZarn-O’Hare, Eric Raymond and John Decareau.
The image of the messy spaghetti — linguine, if you ask Felix — serves as the comedic breaking point in the relationship between the two divorcés and reluctant room mates.
It’s a pivotal scene, and Elaine Gatchell, producer and director of an upcoming production at the Leddy Center for the Performing Arts in Epping, is revealing a foolproof method for getting the pasta shtick to actually stick.
“Well, I’ll tell you a secret,” said Gatchell, who also is executive director of the Leddy. “We make it from scratch and then we fill it full of glue and put it on a very lifelike plastic plate. We ... then let it sit and harden. That’s key. So when he throws it up against the wall, into the kitchen, there’s no harm done.”
Feast of fun
Drippy dinners aside, “The Odd Couple,” written by Neil Simon, has been delighting audiences since it first hit the stage in 1965. It’s the story of two best friends — the sloppy, disheveled sportswriter Oscar Madison and the neat-freak, television newswriter Felix Unger. After Felix’s wife throws him out for being too fastidious, Oscar takes him into his grimy apartment. The story revolves around Oscar and Felix in a weekly poker game with their friends, Speed, Roy, Vinnie and Murray.
“Of course (Felix) drives Oscar crazy because he’s so neat,” said Gatchell, who last produced the play in 2006.
The Leddy Center production omits outside scenes from the 1968 film version that starred Walter Matthew as the slovenly Oscar and Jack Lemmon as the neurotic Felix.
Instead, the Leddy’s “Odd Couple” focuses on Oscar’s spacious, yet fleabag apartment. Gatchell said she has stayed as loyal to the script as possible, right down to the sandwiches at the poker game.
“One is tomato and mayonnaise on pumpernickel. That one’s for Vinny, because Vinny is the nerdy one that loves things like that. And then the others are either very old ham or very green cheese. They’ve been in Oscar’s kitchen forever and they’re just moldy. Murray eats a whole sandwich in front of everybody,” Gatchell said.
The production stars Leddy regular John Seymour of Brentwood as Felix and newcomer John Decareau of Concord as Oscar.
Newcomer Kimberley Miller of Jaffrey, who plays Gwendolyn Pigeon, one-half of the Pigeon sisters who live above Oscar, had no problem with Gwendolyn’s British accent.
“She walked through my audition door (and) said, ‘I’m from England and I just want to be a Pigeon sister.’ That’s what they’re called — Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon. (Miller) said, ‘I’ve always wanted to do this show.”
Decareau and Seymour both feel a connection to Oscar and Felix’ outward personalities. Seymour hasn’t played the role of Felix before, but said Felix’s tidiness “would tend to be my nature.
“There are many who know me who would consider Felix to be typecasting for me,” he said. “My daughter was joking with me, (and said), ‘Hey this is like an obsessive compulsive kind of a hypochondriac neat freak. Is that the character description for your biography?’”
Bringing a character to life on stage takes commitment.
“If you’re doing it well, I think you’re exposing parts of yourself on the stage that you may or may not be comfortable with,” he said. “When I was in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ for Elaine, I kind of found inspiration from my dad in that part. But I think in a lot of characters, you can find things about you. When I did Norman in the ‘Star-Spangled Girl’. … I wasn’t gonna be the romantic lead, I was gonna be the funny guy who chases the girl and doesn’t get her.”
And as far as Decareau being an a real-life Oscar?
“I’ve been there, that’s for sure. I certainly used to be a slob, and I seemed to have cleaned up my act at this point,” Decareau said.
Still, he decided he did not want to base his portrayal of Oscar on Matthau’s performance in the ‘60s film version.
“The way that it’s presented in the movie is different than what is presented for a live theater,” he said. “I wanted to just to be able to do what felt right for the character and not necessarily try to emulate somebody else. I felt it was important to try to go with what the character was saying to me.
Finding a voice
Decareau and Seymond have found their own sense of camaraderie. The two hadn’t worked together previously, but quickly found their groove playing polar opposites.
“Boy, have I been enjoying working with him. I think that’s probably why Elaine cast us together. I daresay we’ve been feeling kind of a connection with each another,” Seymour said.
“He’s done a phenomenal job. It’s just been so great watching his character come to life. I can’t wait to put it in front of an audience,” says Decareau.
While the cast and crew prepare for weeks, a live production still has its surprises.
“To me, live theater is kind of the thing. You can’t control it, anything can happen, and it’s not safe,” Seymour said,
But even when a prop breaks, the audience may not realize anything unscripted is occurring.
Decareau says the unexpected happens “pretty much every single show.”
There’s one point where either something gets skipped or somebody jumps ahead or you miss a line,” he said. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with people that bring their A game, and they’ll help you out. Luckily I’ve had plenty of people that have saved my butt.”