The Odd Couple, Neil Simon’s magnum opus, is being revived in the L.A. area at Santa Monica’s Morgan-Wixson Theatre. The Odd Couple, which premiered on Broadway in 1965 and was adapted to a television sitcom from 1970-75, follows the lives of two single men — one sloppy, the other neat — through a couple of months in which they live together.
This particular rendition of the celebrated play will be directed by Michael Rothhaar, whose directing credits include USC’s 2008 production of Pride and Prejudice.
In the original production, which most adaptations — including this one — stick to fairly closely, Felix Ungar, a neat freak with a neurotic side, moves in with his friend Oscar Madison after he and his wife get a divorce and she kicks him out.
This version of The Odd Couple is not the original; it is, instead, Simon’s updated version, taking place in the ’80s and following two female, rather than male, divorcees.
Dubbed The Odd Couple, Female Version, this arrangement of the play portrays the same themes and characters, but with a mostly female cast.
Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison become Florence Ungar and Olive Madison. The famous poker nights, which frame the play, become games of Trivial Pursuit. But the humor, drawn from Florence’s neat-freak personality clashing with Olive’s messy apartment, remains.
The Morgan-Wixson’s spacious stage will accommodate an elaborate production design, bringing Olive’s apartment to life. Rothhaar cites the venue’s size as a perfect venue to punctuate Simon’s frantic slapstick.
The cast includes Ariella Fiore, who is known for her roles on the TV series Shameless and Bondjamesbond, and Charlotte Edmondson, who has had multiple roles in various theater productions, movies and TV shows. The production is being produced by William Wilday, who has directed and produced nearly 100 shows in Southern California and Pennsylvania. This stage, this cast and this play find a home in Rothhaar’s talented hands.
Rothhaar has been directing productions since 1985, but this is his first time directing The Odd Couple, even though it is his favorite Simon play. His relationship to Simon’s work began around the same time as his interest in theater, while he was still in high school and he saw The Last of the Red Hot Lovers during its original Broadway run.
“I’m a big fan of Simon, and I think sometimes people forget, especially as we get further away from his really productive period, that he’s a master of structure and a master of making comedy come out of real human situations,” Rothhaar said. “He writes comedy that comes out of real desperate situations. I saw [The Odd Couple, Female Version] on Broadway … the original production. I’ve never directed any version of The Odd Couple, and I thought, ‘Here’s one [that I could direct].’”
Rothhaar hopes that his production will introduce Simon to a younger generation. When Rothhaar was young, Simon had four plays on Broadway at the same time — a rare feat. Rothhaar hopes that his direction will express Simon’s talent and comedic insight. Influenced by his unique and exceedingly precise directing style, the director promises that his cast lives up to expectations.
“I have a very distinct way of wanting to work. I think that the best way to discover a play is actually performing it on your feet,” Rothhaar said. “I don’t like a lot of time reading around the table, especially with a very spastic comedy [like this one]. As soon as the actors start to inhabit the environment, the better the experience for the audience. The cast has been with me all the way, there’s been no resistance. Each one brings an enormous amount to the table on their own.”
The talented cast is more than capable of putting on a captivating show, especially in the case of this production. But Rothhaar always wants to make absolutely sure that the script is followed exactly, especially with The Odd Couple.
“I tell actors, ‘Learn this play verbatim,’ particularly [for Neil Simon plays]. If you get the emphasis of the line [wrong], if you throw an extra syllable in, it’s going to be terrible. You wouldn’t add an extra line to the ‘To be or not to be’ speech if you were doing Hamlet, and you wouldn’t add an extra note or rest to Beethoven. And I’m particularly strict about that,” Rothhaar said.
Simon’s resume includes more than 30 plays and collaboration with Larry Gelbart, creator of M*A*S*H, and Woody Allen on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.”
This impressive collecton of work, in combination with Rothhaar’s 30 years of directing experience, ensures that this play will be one to see. Despite it dealing with divorcees and issues particular to the 1980s, Rothhaar believes it will be a treat for USC students, especially for those who have experienced divorce firsthand in their families.
“It can be therapeutic, if you have been in the middle of a divorce or been a child of a divorce, to see this play,” Rothhaar said. “You might recognize your parents somewhere. Is it going to change your life like Laramie Project or Angels in America? No. But it’s great to see what makes people tick, and what makes people funny.”
The production opens on Jan. 18 and runs till Feb. 9. The Morgan-Wixson Theater is a 30-minute drive from campus. Student tickets are $18 and can be purchased online.
This post has been updated to show that Charlotte Edmondson is not a native of London.