“The Odd Couple,” was the latest offering from Guerilla Theater Front who are storming ahead on the Baltimore Theater Scene. Beside these pop up theatrical encounters, they are also hosting staged readings of cult classic films such as Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski. But this retake on the classic Neil Simon play of 1968, also a famous movie and television series, is relevant and comical and just in time for Valentines Day weekend.
Lee Conderacci directs this ensemble, and if you don’t know this powerhouse of divinity, she would not be spinning out a 1960s trouped sitcom, even if it has a happy ending. I think her direction was crisp with a nod to the classic version(s) while maintaining a modern era and dilemma. Although some of the costumes are meant to be mod throw backs, the majority of the production felt as if it could be now or then, and that enigma of time added to the aura of a small townhouse space turned theater.
The Odd Couple consists of divorcee Oscar Madison (Mike Smith) who has a house, 8 dirty rooms, is $800 behind in alimony, and is hosting his weekly poker party. The phone rings and it is Felix’s wife telling them that they are no longer together and she doesn’t know where Felix has gone. He is late to the Poker Party and the players have varied reactions to this. Murray (Rory Kennison), is a cop and panics a bit “you don’t know what Felix is capable of.” When Felix (Justin Johnson) does arrive, he is heartbroken and in no mood for poker. In an extended olive branch move, Oscar asks him to move in to his place. This is the basis of the sitcom, move, and play. One is neat, one is filthy. One is meticulous, one is careless. One is actively looking for ladies; one is hung up on his ex-wife. They are at odds, and are friends but disagree on almost everything.
The beauty of this piece is the small intimate setting. Chairs were limited and sold out for several of the evenings. They were mostly in an audience formation, with some on the side next to the poker table. Although the kitchen and table played open and cheated to the audience, when Felix arrives in Act 1 and needs comforted, his back is to the audience. For Act 2 the couch is moved, but maybe it should have been open the whole time. As Justin entered so upset and devastated, he is also trying to hide laughter. I did attend opening night, and it was pretty funny, and maybe he needed that break (his back to me) to get it together. He is so damn adorable though, with a perfect smile and charming demeanor, I forgive him for all his annoying ticks. More than Oscar does apparently.
Mike Smith is so deadpan in his line delivery; it is hard not to laugh at his comments. He is trying to butter up the Pigeon sisters (Aladrian C. Wetzel and Jennifer Danielle Alexander) and invites them over for a double date dinner that goes horribly wrong. Felix is punctual to a fault, and when the guests and Oscar arrive tardy to the party, Felix has overcooked the dinner and is in no mood for mingling.
The other cast of characters are the poker players: Murray (Rory Kennison) a cop who makes light of his “fat wife” and lives vicariously through Oscar and Felix; Roy (Heiko Spieker), Oscar’s accountant who is concerned about his money, but not concerned enough to quit playing him at poker; Speed (Carlos del Valle) who sits and watches in his overalls and classic cap; and finally Vinnie (Stephen Edwards) who wears a three piece suit and stares down the end of his nose at the shenanigans while adding to the dry humor.
The sisters are adorable, giggly, and I want their dresses and shoes! Aladrian C. Wetzel and Jennifer Danielle Alexander- I would bargain to keep those, they fit you both perfectly too! On a rather odd side note, I thought I should throw in- my husband accompanies me to many theater outings, but is hardly a theater person. He has fallen asleep at some plays (I know, gasp), yawned, and threatened to take up knitting to kill time. He loved this production. He said, “they are awesome, all the actors are great, the story is hilarious, this is my kind of show.” You have converted him, even if it was for one night, and I am eternally in your debt ❤
The lobby is even an oasis of themed foods like Swedish meatballs and popcorn- to harken in more era appropriate-ness. But with a modern twist – vegan or beefJ Lemon bars and sweet engagements for V’s day round out the offerings.
Conderacci keeps it light when it needs to be, and lets moments sink in, like when Felix is contemplating suicide. The program even has suicide awareness resources- a socially conscious cast and theater company always has my heart. My thoughts are that this male-dominated cast and classic sitcom is also offering a new wave on the modern man- it is an affront to toxic masculinity. Felix can wear an apron, be straight, play ladies man, play poker, and make a mean pot roast. He doesn’t have to be defined by one checked box of manhood, and he and his friends offer an alternative to the toxic masculinity seen so much these days. Is is a play by a dead white man? Yes, yes it is. But does GTF offer it in a way that is socially responsible and modern- allowing men and women to find cast members that they associate with, not matter what box they check on forms? Yes, yes it does. And that is why it was damn good theater.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Well, you missed it. But do yourself a favor right now and follow Guerilla Theater Front on social media. They are offering something new every week or two, and pushing the boundaries of theater, and are making waves in Baltimore. Get hip to these theater makers before everyone in town is aware of them, and you can’t get tickets anymore- trust me, it’s coming.
Ran Feb 14- Feb 17 at Oscar’s Place in Highlandtown. Running time about two hours with one fifteen-minute intermission.