The Odd Couple
When personalities clash, they often do so in the most illuminating of ways – often revealing specific traits within each individual caught in the disagreement and shedding as much light on their personal behaviour as that which they cannot stand in their opponent.
Neil Simon’s 1965 play, The Odd Couple, focuses so closely on the characterisation and relationship of its two main protagonists that it has lent itself to various transformations and adaptations over the last 50 years.
Made famous by the 1968 film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, the eponymous ‘odd couple’, the script proves that good writing and clever wit, held together by strong direction, has no boundaries of time and cultural shifts, because of its inherent malleability.
MADC’s latest production of this play, currently running at the Manoel Theatre, has upheld the script’s tradition of adaptability thanks to director Wesley Ellul’s decision to set the play in Malta, in spite of the fact that the anglicised names remain unchanged.
Oscar Madison (Malcolm Galea) is a recently divorced writer who is letting his flat go to pot and living in genteel squalor, while he tries to navigate new-singlehood with his despondent attitude. He enjoys his weekly poker game with his mates, turning the flat into somewhat of a refuge from the stresses of life.
Speed (Edward Caruana Galizia), Murray (Daniel Walters), Roy (Joe Depasquale) and Vinnie (Colin Fitz) wonder at Felix Ungar’s (Chris Dingli) unusual tardiness in attending their game, while engaging in the some very entertaining small talk, which managed to flesh out and endear the audience even to these supporting characters.
We all stand to learn from the most unusual of people in the most unexpected of situations
From Speed’s acerbic cynicism to Roy’s pragmatic composure, Vinnie’s good-natured absentmindedness and Murray’s rather authoritative self-assuredness as a policeman, they each handle the situation at hand differently, all the more so when a suicidal Felix finally turns up.
In a truly hilarious scene, which includes some of the best classical features of the chase and the awkward feigning of casual collectedness, the five friends try to stop Felix from succeeding in his plan to take his own very neat and orderly life after his wife kicks him out.
Caruana Galizia’s fast-talking and sharp Speed was great to watch and contrasted strongly with the laid-back Vinnie portrayed well by Fitz, while Depasquale’s Roy used his composure and his great stature to bag the laughs. Mr Walters made a solid, staid, know-it-all policeman who dispensed advice a little tactlessly.
It was, of course, the Galea-Dingli duo who kept the audience smiling throughout the show, with genuine laughter at their backchat and witty quips, accentuated by a stage dynamic which combined excellent pacing with great comic timing.
Ellul’s decision to set the play in Malta, not only used familiar place names but also attitudes, cultural references and even prints by local artists in Marco Mallia’s set – a set which Dingli’s neat-freak character Felix tidies and cleans obsessively, following his moving in with Oscar, who asks him to stay out of concern for his safety.
Very soon, the oddness of their relationship beings to appear as they take on the stereotypical husband and wife roles and gradually drive each other mad with their very different attitudes to punctuality, fastidiousness, attention to detail, prioritisation and general behaviour. They quite literally become “too much” for each other, with the situation escalating when they double date the chavvy Pigeon sisters who live in the flat above theirs.
Gwendolyn (Maxine Aquilina) and Cecily (Larissa Bonaci) are two expat Brits who only share a name with their Wildeian originals. Both Aquilina and Bonaci got their roles down to a T – they were loud, brash and fun-loving and took to the overemotional Felix extremely well, leaving a fuming Oscar trying to salvage what was left of the dinner date from what fast turned into a therapy session.
It was the tightness of Simon’s script, which has lost nothing of its original spark, combined with fluid directorial hand which made the show good to begin with. It proved that strong writing with the right balance of innuendo, puns and focus on characterisation always works best.
But it was the interpretation of those characters which made the play stand out as a must-see. Galea and Dingli have long established themselves as a great comic duo and this was no exception. Dingli’s Felix could not have been more neurotically funny and Galea’s slovenly, long-suffering Oscar who moved from nagging wife to nagging roommate, was equally entertaining.
In spite of their a-synchronicity, however, the pair actually rub off on each other, leaving them both better equipped to deal with what life chooses to throw at them: be it burnt dinners or ruined dates. Proving, of course, that we all stand to learn from the most unusual of people in the most unexpected of situations.
• The Odd Couple is being staged on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Manoel Theatre at 8pm. Tickets may be obtained by e-mail: email@example.com, online from www.teatrumanoel.com.mt or by calling 2124 6389.
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