Originally staged on Broadway in 1965, “The Odd Couple” has been turned into both a film and a television show, and now Neil Simon’s Tony-award-winning play is coming to Austin this Thursday.
Unlike director Karen Sneed’s earlier productions with City Theatre, “The Odd Couple” required only a little bit of research.
“These are people I know,” Sneed said. “These are people I’ve seen. I understand the Neil Simon style. Most of the work was done during rehearsals. My approach to directing varies depending on what the show is.”
“The Odd Couple” is a high-energy, whacky comedy about polar opposites and good friends Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison trying to live together when faced with marital difficulties. Ungar is a neurotic news writer, and, when his wife throws him out, he is forced to move in with Madison, his sloppy, news writer friend.
“Neil Simon brought the old comedy traditions back and paved the way for much of television comedy in the late 1960s and 1970s,” Sneed said. “He set his plays in modern situations, where comedy was part of the story and not simply imposed upon it.”
Sneed said she refrained from making any changes to the original script.
“When you have great writing and you start messing with the original work, you’re just undermining yourself,” Sneed said.
Auditions were held at City Theatre last December, with UT alumni Scot Friedman and Rick Smith cast as Ungar and Madison, respectively.
“I wanted actors who could really do the comedy because there’s a style to this comedy,” Sneed said. “I also had to get chemistry between the guys playing [Madison] and [Ungar]. [Friedman] and [Smith] have worked together more than once, and they kind of brought their natural chemistry and their natural comedic abilities to the audition.”
Having acted in a number of school and college productions, Friedman took voice training for years and joined City Theatre in 2009. Often leaning toward comedies, Friedman takes on scripts that are interesting and challenging for him.
“I will need pieces of that character, whether it’s a costume or cane or a hat — things that help define that character,” Friedman said. “I work outside-in. Often times, being very good at accents and dialects, it will be the voice of the character that gets my attention. I’ve changed my voice for [Ungar], trying to speak like they did in the 1960s: little elements of Northeastern New York, a typical radio-voice you’d hear in the 1960s.”
Friedman said he has incorporated some of his own characteristics into playing Ungar.
“I like things ordered in a certain way,” Friedman said. “I’m certainly not as neurotic or as much of a neat freak as [Ungar], but my tendency to have things orderly and neat and, possibly, the way I argue resembles that of [Ungar].”
Smith has also likes to have things neat.
“With [Smith], what you see is what you get,” Sneed said. “[Smith] is an adorable person, and he is on the persnickety side: very detail-oriented and always trying to get things perfect.”
After 15 years of being away from theater, Smith returned to performing in 2012. He has performed “The Odd Couple” several times before City Theatre’s revival of it. It’s one of the plays that inspired him to be a part of the theater and said a good script is what matters — not the characters.
“Simon’s characters are fleshed out so beautifully,” Smith said. “If you don’t nail it, if you don’t get it right, then it’s your fault, and not Neil Simon’s fault.”