May 15, 2006

Gone With the Weekend

Monday mornings are so much nicer when you don't have to go into work. I have off on Mondays because most theaters are closed -- the same way as NYC museums. What makes this an exceptional Monday morning is the weather bonus. At this moment a thunderstorm is hovering over Queens and rain is pouring down. Usually around 8am the local birds remind me that I'm sleeping by waking me up with their petulant chirping. This morning, around 9:30, it was the sound of water hitting the ground hard and fast. Guess which way I prefer to wake up.

Saturday, I finished out my work week with two performances of The Odd Couple. After watching it for a week, I feel like I know this particular production. This play has been around for over 40 years so it's pretty tried and true. When you're mounting this show, you really only have to worry about casting and production design because the script is tight. If performed properly, every joke hits and audiences roar with laughter every few minutes.

Which is why I'm amazed that Matthew Broderick was able to get so many laughs. He gave his most wooden performance as Felix Unger. At times it seemed like he was on stage for the first time - insecure, stiff, uncomfortable and so quiet at times, you'd think he'd forgotten about that one deaf person in Secaucus to whom he's supposed to be projecting. But then at some point you realize either Joe Mantello, the director, told him to act that way or these were choices that Broderick made for his portrayal of Felix Unger. The performance completely lacked energy and for the most part the voice he chose was just awful. (The man's been on Broadway since he's 17 years of age. That's more than half his life. He should have been the best one on that stage.)

But maybe I shouldn't be amazed, because as I said earlier The Odd Couple is a very good play - so good that even if one of the actors turns in a so-so performance the play could still be a success as it is. Every performance I saw had the audience in stitches.

There's a really good and honest review of The Odd Couple at Gay City News. I agree with Christopher Byrne's review regarding the performance of Matthew Broderick and his criticisms of the director Joe Mantello for not helping Broderick give the best performance possible. You may not know this, but it's the director's responsiblity to make sure his actors aren't screwing up on stage and in the case of Broderick, he didn't do much to help the situation. (It's interesting that Montello is also the director for Three Days of Rain. Julia Roberts could have used some help and it seems Montello failed her as well.)

As much as I think Mr. Byrne accurately described Matthew Broderick's performance as the weakest point of the show, I don't necessarily agree with his criticism that the play is an anachronism and doesn't hold up - that people don't get it.

And here's why. Most theater goers know this play and understand that it takes place 40 or so years ago. There's no reason to underestimate the American public by assuming that the values and expectations of the 60's are so foreign to us now that a play like this can't be successful. The proof is in the ear splitting laughter. It's pretty clear that this play is set in the 60's. It says so in the Playbill and the set design, costumes and language couldn't make it any more plain.

PigeonI still recommend seeing this show if you can get a ticket. The performance turned in by every other cast member is delightful - particular Jessica Stone and Olivia D'Albo as the Pigeon sisters. They are wonderful and save the dinner scene at the opening of Act II . If it were up to Broderick, evereyone would have used a nasally head voice and whispered all their lines but Stone and D'Albo light the stage on fire with their oxigenated energy and comic spark.

That's my favorite scene in the play and Nathan Lane as Oscar delivers the line "Is everybody happy?" perfectly. He also does well with "It took me three hours to figure out FU stands for Felix Unger."

Go see it. Go see it now. Nathan Lane is always good without exception.

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