CEDAR FALLS — Oscar Madison’s buddies know they can count on “brown sandwiches and green sandwiches” — new cheese or old meat? — and warm Coke on poker nights at the divorced sportswriter’s messy apartment. The place reeks of cigar smoke and dirty laundry, and cards are dealt along with plenty of bad jokes and good-natured grousing.
Then Felix Ungar arrives, depressed after being kicked out by his wife. Oscar pities the guy and invites him to become his roommate.
Poker night is transformed as Felix tidies up the apartment, caters to the players and even disinfects the playing cards. Felix is appalled by Oscar’s slobbery, and Oscar can’t stand Felix’ fussy ways.
“The Odd Couple” is one of Neil Simon’s classic comedies, and the latest production on stage at the Oster Regent Theatre. The Cedar Falls Community Theatre production runs Friday through next Sunday and Feb. 22-24.
Michelle Rathe, a familiar onstage presence, is taking the helm for the first time for this CFCT show. As director, her goal has been to bring the iconic comedy to life. “How do you make something interesting that’s a little dated but has wonderful themes and meanings and make it real and honest at the same time?”
The Tony award-winning show premiered on Broadway with Walter Matthau and Art Carney in the lead roles in 1965. The 1968 movie proved successful, followed by the TV series in the 1970s.
Over the years, there have been numerous versions and spin-offs.
Rathe brings energy and movement to the show. “The actors have responded to the challenges I’ve given them. I didn’t cast by physical type. I wanted to see what they could do acting-wise, and I got a group of normal guys with different styles and personalities who have come together in a real, honest way,” she explained.
One intriguing aspect of the show is casting 23-year-old Erik Mueterthies as Felix. A recent college graduate, he will appear opposite veteran actor and University of Northern Iowa professor Grant Tracey as Oscar. “It’s been fascinating to watch them play off each other and constantly encouraging each other. With character, comedy and movement, you take a risk, and they’re both team players,” said Rathe.
The actors appreciate Simon’s brand of humor, said Gary Baumgartner. He’s cast as Murray, a cop who is the peacekeeper between the poker players. “The play isn’t written for a laugh every 10 seconds. These characters are not a bunch of stand-up comics. The more real we play the characters, the more humor comes out of the situation. The laughs come out of realism.”
The cast also includes Chris Hansen, Mark Smith, David Kuehner, Kristie Conditt and Rebecca Lee McCarty.