Ensemble comedy is a lot like ballet. It only looks effortless because the people on stage are highly trained professionals who can trust the other members of the company to do their part. The Purple Rose Theatre Company is currently staging the “Nutcracker” of classic Broadway comedies, Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” and the pas de deux between Guy Sanville (Oscar Madison) and David Montee (Felix Ungar) is carefully choreographed art.
It’s always fun to catch Sanville, the PRTC Artistic Director, when he returns to the boards as an actor. His interpretation of America’s favorite slob dovetails nicely with Montee’s neatnic, hypochondriac Felix Ungar. They somehow manage to take these iconic roles and find a fresh way to bring them to the stage. By the end of the familiar story, there is an actual sense that, just maybe, some of the better habits of each have rubbed off on the other.
“The Odd Couple” is set in the ‘60s and takes place entirely in Oscar Madison’s New York apartment. The play opens and closes with the guys’ weekly poker game – the manly-man version of support group. We learn, through a dialog that explores the carbon-dating of food in Oscar’s refrigerator, that he has been divorced for less than a year. It is quickly revealed that Felix’s wife has just called it quits and has sent him packing. Oscar invites the distraught Felix to move in, and they are soon bickering like an old married couple.
Rounding out the poker buddies are David Bendena as Speed, Chris Lutkin as Roy, Jim Porterfield as Murray the cop, and Tom Whalen as Vinnie. Michelle Mountain and Rhiannon Ragland steal their scenes by appearing as the kooky Pidgeon sisters (named Gwendolyn and Cecily, in a nod to Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”). Mountain brings a giggly obliviousness to the role and Ragland, as her younger sister, parallels that with a slightly devil-may-care disdain for convention. Her towering updo, which rivals Marge Simpson’s blue bouffant, is wielded with beautiful comic effect that mesmerizes Oscar and terrifies the emotionally vulnerable Felix, who clearly expects to be eaten alive.
This production of “The Odd Couple” marks the professional directorial debut of Purple Rose Resident Artist Lauren Mounsey. Mounsey, a former PRTC apprentice, has performed in several PRTC productions including “33 Variations,” “Steel Magnolias,” and “2AZ.” Congratulations are in order – it’s a well-paced show that lets the script and the actors do their work without resorting to any gimmicks.
The wonderful ‘60s-era set design is by Bartley H. Bauer, with properties by Danna Segrest. The production team also features costumes by Corey Collins, lighting by Reid G. Johnson, and sound by Tom Whalen. Angie Kane Ferrante is the stage manager.
Treat yourself to some unapologetic laughs served up by people who care about their craft. “The Odd Couple” runs through Saturday, March 26, 2016. Evening performance are scheduled Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and matinees are performed on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 3 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m. All performances will be held at The Purple Rose Theatre Company, located at 137 Park Street, Chelsea, Michigan 48118. Ticket prices range from $19 to $43 each with special discounts for students, seniors and groups. For more information or to make reservations call The Purple Rose Theatre Company box office at (734) 433-7673 or go online.