by Beki Pineda

THE ODD COUPLE – Written by Neil Simon; Directed by Christopher Willard.  Presented by Parker Arts (Schoolhouse Theatre, 19650 East Main Street, Parker) through March 17.  Tickets available at 303-805-6800 or parkerarts.org.

While it is unlikely that my Boulder readers would drive the distance to Parker to see a production of THE ODD COUPLE – no matter how good – it is not unreasonable to suppose that Denver readers would like to learn about an excellent production and would consider the half hour drive to Parker for a good time. It’s easy to forget about the sparkling little gem that is Parker’s Main Street area with its charming boutiques, gift shops and  on the street restaurants. It’s a great place to wander, enjoy an outside dinner on a warm night, and see a good play in either the beautiful auditorium at the PACE Center or in their second, more intimate space at the historic Schoolhouse Theatre. Here’s your chance.

Watching a Neil Simon play is like observing a master class in playwriting.  Everything works. The plot is logical, well constructed and human. The dialogue is sharp, realistic, full of great one-liners and caustic observations. While this ODD COUPLE is set in the 60’s, with just a few small adjustments in dialogue, it could be set in any era or ethnicity as the emotions and the situations are universal. The characters of Oscar and Felix are so timeless, they have been the source of three TV series (the Tony Randall/Jack Klugman original series from 1970-1975, a short-lived African American version  in 1982, and a more recent Matthew Perry helmed version in 2015 which lasted for three seasons), a 1968 movie followed by a second movie in 1998 and a female version adapted by Simon himself. His juxtaposition of  neat versus sloppy has proven a gold mine of funny situations and confrontations.

Therein lies the crux of the plot. Oscar is a happy-go-lucky divorced sports writer who has little need for neatness in his life. Felix is a recently separated news writer who drove his wife crazy with his OCD (before OCD was a diagnosis) behavior and his neat freakiness. As friends and poker buddies, Oscar offers Felix a place to land when he finds himself homeless . . . . and the fun begins. Throw in the occasional poker game with their other four concerned friends and the Pigeon Sisters, a pair of English secretaries who live in the same building, as potential love interests and you’ve got a show. Simple, sweet, and hilariously funny. The dialogue sings and zings.

Director Chris Willard did two things extremely well. He cast the play perfectly in the first place. Damon Guerrasio as Felix and Brian Walker-Smith as Oscar are perfect in these parts. Damon has such confidence in his character; his nervous pacing, his frantic cleaning up, his frustrated anger when his roast burns, his pent up sorrow at his separation which wins over the Pigeon Sisters, and his quiet gloating at his final success are spot on and perfect. Equally, Brian’s casual sloppiness, his nonchalance over his lifestyle, his own frustrated anger over his botched date, his determination to control the situation, and his genial acceptance of the unexpected outcome are wonderful to watch. Both of these actors are so talented that they could easily have traded places and played their opposite character. But I’m glad I got to see it this way.

Willard also built in enough stage business to allow for the “handling” of anything that happened on stage in this very physical script. Spilled food, broken dishes, cards falling on the floor . . . he managed to instill such ease and confidence in his actors that no matter what happens, there’s time and a way to fix it. The main actors and their supporting cast have such trust in each other that there can be no awkward moments, no botched actions . . . they would just work around it in character.

Their poker playing buddies are played with heart and humor by Ben Hilzer, Nick Johnson, Bruce Laks and Luke Rahmsdorff-Terry. The Pigeon Sisters are given giggly life by Lindsay Blackman and Eve Cohen, both actresses unrecognizable under their beehive wigs.

The tech team at PACE came through with a lovely living room set designed by Shaun Albrechtson, although it was almost too neat to have been inhabited by Oscar for any length of time.  Julie LeBlanc provided the miniskirts and go go boots for the girls and Patrick Hinchliffe made sure we could see everything happening on stage. It’s always so much fun to revisit a script you haven’t seen recently. This one couldn’t have been better.

A WOW factor of 9!!