Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
April 26, 2013
An old chestnut… and news from the colleges.
“The Odd Couple” is a Neil Simon classic that debuted in 1965 and spawned the famous film and unforgettable TV sitcom. No one slings a one-liner like Simon.
Parts of the play are timeless: There will always be poker-playing guys complaining about – and lying to – their wives. And messy divorced men’s apartments are de rigueur.
But other parts of the comedy feel dated. A guy who cooks and cleans is not so anomalous any more. And one who’s as nitpicking a neat-freak as Felix Unger would now be considered to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which is no longer a laughing matter. But we try to ignore all that to enter the world of the play.
At North Coast Repertory Theatre, under the direction of Andrew Barnicle , the first act crackles with energy and fast-paced witticisms. These poker-players are a hoot. And later on, those two English birds, the Pigeon sisters, are spot-on.
Matt Thompson’s Oscar is pitch-perfect, quintessentially rumpled and slapdash. But Louis Lotorto went in and out for me as Felix. Though his line delivery was snappy, he always seemed to be acting fussy and finicky. Even his floppy hair isn’t impeccably in place. He just looks too casually wholesome to be a self-proclaimed “neurotic nut.”
Marty Burnett’s cluttered set cleans up nicely in the second act. And the costumes are just right for the period. But parts of the play feel so… last-century.
Speaking of which, there’s Stephen Sondheim’s exquisitely droll creation, “A Little Night Music,” set in 1900 and composed completely in 3/4 time. San Diego State University’s production is stunning, beautifully designed and sung, backed by a marvelous 18-piece orchestra. The cast includes the very talented MFA students, a few stellar alumni, and even a Faculty Emeritus, the delightful Anne-Charlotte Harvey, who knows better than anyone her native Swedes.
Under the assured direction of Paula Kalustian , the production is a little light on the humor and sexuality, but with expert musical direction by Terry O’Donnell, the singing is superb, and the diction is crisp, allowing all of Sondheim’s gloriously clever lyrics to be heard, in this skewering of the frivolous rich by the more lusty and lighthearted hoi polloi.
Now, planting itself firmly in our time, there’s the Wagner New Play Festival, newly renamed in honor of Molli and Arthur Wagner, founder of the UCSD Theatre Department. The Festival is always provocative, because it shows what young writers are thinking. And like SDSU productions, it showcases the talent of tomorrow. Of the three productions I’ve seen so far, two were disturbingly nihilistic, but Jeff Augustin’s wonderfully performed “Little Children Dream of God,” about Haitian refugees in Miami, ended on a note of hope.
So set your theatrical sights on the past, present and future.
The Wagner New Play Festival runs through April 27 at UC San Diego.
“A Little Night Music” plays through April 28 in the Don Powell Theatre at San Diego State University.
“The Odd Couple” continues through May 5 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
©2013 PAT LAUNER