Given the quality of the stars that played the role before them on stage, film and television — Walter Matthau and Jack Klugman as Oscar, Jack Lemmon and Tony Randall as Felix — Scott Treadway and Charlie Flynn-McIver face a high standard to match in "The Odd Couple," which opened Saturday night at the Flat Rock Playhouse.
What they have going for them is that the loyal Playhouse audience — and that appeared to be the audience that filled the seats Saturday night — expects Treadway and McIver to shine. They did.
Although a little slow in starting, the play delivered a fun-to-watch night of theater, carried by the two leads and propelled along by a solid supporting cast.
The familiar story opens with five of the six poker buddies seated in Oscar's messy apartment. Sandwiches? Sure, Oscar's got sandwiches. "I've got brown and I've got green," he says. "What's that?" they want to know. "Either very new cheese or very old meat."
"We're going to make a new rule," says Roy, played by Ralph Redpath. "You've got to buy new potato chips every six months."
Felix is missing, the poker buddies learn, because his wife, Frances, threw him out. They find out that he has sent a "suicide telegram" and begin to offer a parade of bad outcomes, which Oscar brushes off.
"He's too nervous to kill himself," he says. "He wears a seatbelt at a drive-in theater."
Treadway, as Felix, shows up soon enough, disheveled, morose and self-absorbed, and the play takes on a fresher and faster pace. The physical comedy ratchets up a notch. Treadway makes a "moose call" to clear his sinuses. Oscar takes him in, and the roommate disaster story that everyone knows so well sets sail.
As Scene 2 opens, three weeks later, Felix has transformed the apartment to a neat and tidy version of its former frat house chaos. He pesters the players to use a coaster — "those little round things that go under your glass."
"I think I bet mine," says police officer Murray, played by Michael MacCauley.
The end is near, roommate relationship-wise.
When Felix manages to derail the double-date with the ditzy but desirable coo-coo Pigeon sisters (Ellie Mooney and Laura Woyasz), the mismatched roomies clash in the climatic fight that ends in their divorce. The answer is no, they can't learn to live together. Director Kate Galvin says in her playbill notes that "they both emerge more whole and more balanced than they were before."
Whatever. My rule for light comedy is you don't have to take a moral from it.
The real Odd Couple
The bigger story Saturday night was not the one on stage, anyway.
The story was who was on the stage, and what their presence represented. Between Treadway, Redpath and Peter Thomasson, the theater had cast veterans who have more than 200 shows and 75 Playhouse seasons among them. (Redpath was one of the poker buddies when the Playhouse staged "The Odd Couple" in the '70s.)
The Playhouse opens its 61st season having emerged from a near-death experience just three months ago, and it cannot be an accident that it has gone safe and conventional with the opening Main Stage show and cast beloved stars with proven box-office appeal.
Vincent Marini said from the stage Saturday night that ticket sales had already made the season opener "one of the biggest successes we've had."
We spotted Marini on the rock directing traffic. On stage, he introduced the theater's new managing director, Hillary Hart, a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem and most recently the general manager of the Dallas Theater Center.
Hart thanked the audience for welcoming her family into this family — the Flat Rock Playhouse family. A dysfunctional and melodramatic family it has been these last five years, that is for sure, and yet there seemed to be a feeling that the old and the new had somehow managed to negotiate, at least for now, on April 6, a fragile peace.
"The Odd Couple" actually seemed more dated than I thought it would. Times marches on. We forget that Neil Simon's Broadway play is 48 years old, the movie 45 and the television series 43. There were no surprises. It was familiar and predictable, and because of that, comfortable.
And isn't that, after all, what we've been screaming for?
We the people and Flat Rock Playhouse are the real odd couple. We patrons dream up a thousand things we'd do differently out there in Flat Rock. Some new arrivals among the Playhouse management lament our unsophisticated appetites, our incorrigible affection for familiar faces and tales and our inability to appreciate a perfectly roasted London broil. And yet, like those mismatched old friends, the relationship survives.
The only thing worse than living together is to live without one another.
Bill Moss, the editor of the Hendersonville Lightning, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.