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Simon's 'The Odd Couple' still hits home

Published: Monday, March 25 2013 8:25 p.m. MDT

Jeff Talbott (Felix Ungar), left, and Mark La Mura (Oscar Madison) in Pioneer Theatre Company's "The Odd Couple."

ALEX WEISMAN, ICEWOLFPHOTOGRAPHY.COM

“THE ODD COUPLE,” through April 6, Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 801-581-6961, running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes; one intermission

In 1965, the national divorce rate was 9.2 divorces per 1,000 couples. A few years later, California Gov. Ronald Reagan would sign a “no-fault” divorce bill — the nation’s first — and divorce rates would double in less than 20 years.

Though divorces were slightly more common in 1965 than during the 1950s, they certainly were not happening with the frequency we’re seeing today.

That’s an interesting fact to keep in mind when you see Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” running through April 6 at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre.

Simon was a bit ahead of the cultural swing, writing a comedy about two mismatched roommates who end up sharing an apartment after their respective divorces.

“The Odd Couple” continues to be one of Simon’s most-loved plays, regularly being performed at local and regional theaters around the country.

And it’s easy to see why: the effortless dialogue, quick one-liners and delightful characters. And, if you’re lucky enough to catch a really good production of this great piece, you’re in for a terrific night.

Such is the case with Pioneer Theatre Company’s production, directed by artistic director Karen Azenberg. Led by Mark La Mura (Oscar) and Jeff Talbott (Felix), the solid cast trades barbs, jabs and forced flirtation.

La Mura’s Oscar is delightful: sloppy, exasperated and exhausted. Oscar coupled with Felix’s nervous energy, worry and unease make for a charming duo in their less-than-charming relationship.

The rest of the poker players and the Pigeon sisters add a nice energy to the group scenes. There are a few times the back-and-forth feels a bit forced, but the overall dynamic is entertaining.

During set changes, this production also adds a drop painted with fun retro images and sound from vintage Maxwell House and Coke commercials, which help further solidify the 1960s scene. Michael Schweikardt’s set design and Brenda Van Der Wiel’s costume design contribute nicely to the show.

This is the first time in PTC’s history they’ve produced the Neil Simon classic and, frankly, it’s about time. Simon’s script is still as relevant today as ever, and it gives us all a reason to laugh in spite of ourselves — or our neighbors, or friends or all of the above.

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