Oscar the slob and Felix the neatnik. Need I say more?
Literally stars of stage, screen and television, this duo has been making audiences laugh for more than half a century. The characters also have shown that even if marriage doesn’t last, friendship will survive the most annoying and aggravating habits a person can possess.
True North Theatre’s production of the “The Odd Couple,” performed at the Cyrus Pavilion theatre at the University of Maine, is a delightful escape for whatever’s ailing Greater Bangor’s theatergoing public. The cast perfectly captures all characters’ antics and by cementing the show firmly in the 1960s, the production is a nostalgic trip back in time.
First performed in 1965, “The Odd Couple” cemented playwright Neil Simon’s place in theater history as a comedic innovator in total control of his craft and set the standard for stories about oddball friends who become mismatched roommates.
This is the third production of a Simon play in Bangor and Orono in the past four months. The University of Maine presented “Rumors” and Ten Bucks Theatre Co. produced “The Sunshine Boys” last fall. Both were written years after “The Odd Couple” debuted.
Simon knows how to make an audience chortle, chuckle, howl and double over with laughter. Angela Bonacasa, artistic director of True North Theatre, thinks that is just what Mainers need right now.
The intimate theater space inside the pavilion, where the audience sits above and on three sides of the set, allows theatergoers to feel as if they are part of Oscar’s weekly poker games. Bonacasa uses the space well and keeps the cast moving on, off and around the stage filled with furniture and props from the era.
A year ago, Tyler Costigan and Tellis Coolong heated up the same space as Brick and Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Both actors are so fine at creating distinct characters that it is impossible to see a scintilla of that father/son duo in their Felix and Oscar.
Costigan’s fussy, foible-filled Felix is a delight. He is as flummoxed by his wife’s desire for a divorce as he is by the lack of coasters at Oscar’s poker table. The actor’s thin, wiry frame and malleable eyebrows make his Felix seem constantly startled by life’s curves. Costigan lets the laughs rise out of Felix’s character but never lets him become a buffoon or a clown.
Physically, Coolong looks a bit like a former linebacker who’s had too many burgers and beers. Just seeing his Oscar with Costigan’s Felix invokes laughter. Coolong could easily have made the slovenly sportswriter a bully but his Oscar has a heart of mush and always wants the best for his friend.
Costigan and Coolong are two of the most talented and versatile actors working in Greater Bangor. Both understand that character’s the thing necessary to capture the heart and soul of an audience. They inhabit Felix and Oscar from the inside out, the same way they did Brick and Big Daddy last year.
Bonacasa has a gift for building ensembles and she uses it deftly in “The Odd Couple.” Oscar’s poker playing buddies, played by Neil E. Graham, Mark Bilyk, Garrett Moyer and Joe Fisher, work together like a well-oiled machine. They easily convince the audience that they have been playing this game every week for years.
The giggling Pigeon sisters, portrayed by Jenny Hancock and Holly Schreiber, are engaging and genuinely seem to have been plucked from the “Swinging ‘60s.” Their laughter is infectious and rolls over the audience like a warm blanket.
Scenic Designer Tricia Hobbs, Lighting Designer Scout Hough, Costume Designer Claire Bolduc, and Properties Designer Belinda Hobbs do an excellent job of recreating Oscar’s 1960s middle class apartment gone to seed. This technical crew has created an eye-popping homage to the era but it is actor Graham’s sound design that firmly anchors the play in its essential time period. Theatergoers who lived through that era will be jolted back in time by the music.
With “The Odd Couple,” True North has proven it is as adept at comedy as it is at drama. The cast truly makes laughter the best medicine for whatever balm theatergoers need right now.
True North Theatre Co.’s “The Odd Couple” will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Cyrus Pavilion Theatre at the University of Maine in Orono. For more information, call 619-4833 or visit truenorthteatre.org.