Two is the craziest number

The Odd Couple

David Zybert, left, plays Oscar, and Lloyd Steinman plays Felix in Neil Simon’s comedy about divorcé roommates.

David Zybert, left, plays Oscar, and Lloyd Steinman plays Felix in Neil Simon’s comedy about divorcé roommates.

Rated 4.0

I haven’t seen the 1968 movie version of The Odd Couple. Blame it on my age or the fact that I don’t have cable, but I was a little unsure of what to expect when we went to see Reno Little Theater’s production of the play.

The plot revolves around two divorced men trying to live together, the catch being that one is neat and one is a slob. It seemed a little predictable, presumably because dozens of movies in the intervening years have played off the premise. That makes perfect sense since the characters in Neil Simon’s play are so funny and endearing that they drive the plot along nicely, and the story is engaging.

The curtain rises to five guys attempting to play poker in one very messy apartment. Oscar, their host, is a divorcé, and it’s evident that he is living a bachelor’s life as he serves up stale potato chips and warm soda. The opening dialogue between the guys is quick, snappy and sets the pace for the entire play. Gary Helmers, who plays Murray, stands out as a cop who can’t seem to keep track of the cards he’s dealing.

As the guys play, they become concerned that one of the regulars, Felix, is missing. A phone call to Felix’s home reveals that Felix is soon-to-be divorced. When Felix finally arrives at the game, he is carrying his suitcase. He insists nothing is wrong as he not-so-silently starts moaning about his predicament. At first, the poker buddies ignore his whining. Desperate for sympathy, Felix resorts to half-hearted attempts at suicide in order to grab their attention. The scene ends with Oscar finally taking pity on Felix and offering him a place to stay.

Two divorcés should be great together, but while Oscar is a laidback, fun-loving guy, Felix is a cleaning, cooking neurotic. This combination makes for some funny situations and lots of friction. David Zybert (Oscar) and Lloyd Steinman (Felix) worked well together. As Oscar and Felix settled into the roles of a regular couple, the dynamic between them was very humorous. On several occasions, the actors elicited belly laughs from the audience. My favorite part was when a pickle went flying across the stage.

Steinman as Felix was incredible and believable. Not once did I get the sense that Steinman was an actor; he was Felix, a character that seemed hard to nail down. His willingness to cry, clean and give the silent treatment at the drop of a hat made him seem the overdramatic housewife. However, Steinman made the character sympathetic and funny.

Because Steinman really made Felix pop, I was let down by Zybert’s Oscar. A few flubbed lines and the lack of energy left Oscar seemingly dull compared to the eccentric Felix. Zybert’s acting was decent, but he just didn’t have the stage presence that Steinman did.

The play tackles issues other than the battle of the clean and the slovenly. At the heart of The Odd Couple is whether or not a person can change and whether two people can live in harmony with each other.

Overall, I really enjoyed this play. Michael Peters directed a great cast. It made me want to go home and watch the movie version to see if it was as funny as Reno Little Theater’s.