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Raven Players serve up Neil Simon's 'Odd Couple'

click to enlarge CLEAN THAT UP! Stephen Cannon and Tim Shippey in 'The Odd Couple.'
  • CLEAN THAT UP! Stephen Cannon and Tim Shippey in 'The Odd Couple.'

Oscar and Felix.

Even people who've never seen the 1965 Neil Simon play The Odd Couple will recognize those iconic names—the slob and the neat freak, forced to become roommates, constantly on each other's nerves. Adapted to the screen in 1968, The Odd Couple, originally performed on Broadway by Walter Matthau and Art Carney, became a national phenomenon in the '70s, with the long-running television series starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.

In 1985, Simon rewrote the play as a vehicle for two female actresses, and there are those who find The Female Odd Couple, as it was titled, to be even funnier than the original. And there are those among us, myself included, who still prefer the strange 1975 animated TV show The Oddball Couple, in which Oscar and Felix were transformed into a dog and cat—named Fleabag and Spiffy.

Still, it is good, now and then, to return to the source material, and under the direction of John Green, Healdsburg's Raven Players are giving the original play a jaunty, pleasurable revival at the Raven Performing Arts Theater. Though conspicuously dated, with pop-cultural references that lack the sizzle they once carried, there is much that is genuinely funny about these characters. Oscar (played with a gruff and natural charm by Tim Shippey) is a slovenly, long-divorced sportswriter, who offers his New York apartment to his best friend, the uptight, recently separated Felix.

Felix is played by Stephen Cannon, who curiously adopts a dreamy, distanced, passive-aggressiveness instead of the expected high-strung single-mindedness that defines Felix in most versions, including the one where he's a cat. Still, Cannon nails much of the physical comedy, including the classic scene where Felix attempts to clear his sinuses with a series of weird nasal noises, a wonderful little gem of a comic moment.

The supporting cast is strong, with Jeremy Boucher leading a pack of local character actors as Oscar's weekly poker buddies, and Karen Wallace and Tory Rotlisberger delivering delightfully flirty performances as Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon, two buxom British sisters whose hilarious double-date with Oscar and Felix leads to irreparable complications.

Director Green keeps the story clipping along steadily, though he misses a few big opportunities to deliver the kind of madcap sitcom energy that playwright Simon built into the script. On the whole, though, this Odd Couple delivers the goods. It's a gently funny jab at people who carry their mistakes from relationship to relationship, and the ups, downs and ultimate limits of real friendship.

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