Felix Ungar (Rick Angell) tidies up while his roommate, Oscar Madison (Mark Pullen) comments. Photo by Dan Whitney
As soon as Rick Angell learned that the Cherokee Community Theater was going to do Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" for their spring production this year, he got on the phone and called Mark Pullen in Des Moines to give him a "heads up."
When he was the manager of the airport in Cherokee, Pullen said that if the CCCT ever did the classic comedy, he would like to play the sloppy sportswriter, Oscar Madison.
Pullen immediately seized the opportunity, landed the role of Oscar, and has flown back and forth between Des Moines and Cherokee on the weekends during the play's rehearsals. During the week, he's been rehearsing the play, renewing old acquaintances, and staying with Angell.
Oscar (Mark Pullen) looks forward to a night out with Gwendolyn (Jan Brown, left) and Cicely (Dee Murphy, right), the Pigeon Sisters. Photo by Dan Whitney
Oscar Wilde once said that life Imitates art, and that is certainly true in this case, because guess who is playing Oscar's housemate, Felix Ungar, in the CCCT production? That's right, Rick Angell, Pullen's recent housemate in "real life." Angell, who says it's probably been five years or so since he last tread the boards in a CCCT production, had thought about playing one of the poker-playing buddies in The Odd Couple, but Pullen said that his playing Oscar was contingent on Angell's portraying Felix. So, Rick dusted off his thespian skills and plunged in.
This reviewer, for one, is glad that he did. The best thing about Simon's classic play is its sharp writing, especially the dialogue between the two lead characters. But if the right actors aren't playing those characters, the performance would not resonate for the audience and produce both the small chuckles and the big laughs it seeks.
Pullen and Angell's performances as Oscar and Felix, I'm happy to say, are spot on, and rank right up there with those of Matthau and Lemmon or Klugman and Randall.
left to right - Speed (Ryan Kotz), Roy (Dave Zelle), Vinny (Gene Galvin), Murray (Jim Godberson) and Oscar (Mark Pullen) look at their hands during the Friday night poker game.
When you add in the supporting performances of Jim Godberson, Dave Zelle, Gene Galvin and Ryan Kotz as Oscar and Felix's Friday night poker buddies and those of Jan Brown and Dee Murphy as the British upstairs neighbors, the Pigeon Sisters, you have a delightful evening (or afternoon) of comic entertainment.
"The Odd Couple" was directed by CCT veteran Jackie Courtright, and concluded its excellent six performance run with the March 22 matinee performance.