Maybe an invitational opening night isn't the best time to see a new production. There are, all too often, far too many bugs yet to be ironed out. So, bearing in mind that what I saw Thursday night at Rose Wagner hall was simply your basic dress-rehearsal run-through - and that 99 percent of the show's problems may be worked out early in the run - here's my assessment of Salt City Productions' debut of `The Odd Couple.'
(Also, keep in mind that this is Neil Simon's female version of his hit Broadway comedy. If Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau or Jack Klugman & Tony Randall are forever etched in your memory, you put this mindset aside.)- MINUSES: Act One, with its tediously slow pacing, seemed to drag on and on. Director Scott Ditty, through his locally based Professional Actors Conservatory, espouses the acclaimed "Method" technique of acting. This worked fine for Marlon Brando in "A Streetcar Named Desire," but is obviously the wrong approach for comedy, which requires brisk, snappy delivery.
One of the major roles - Olive Madison - was badly miscast. Jennifer Eyre lacked the feistiness and gusto this role needs. (Michelle Wilson, who played cop Mickey, would have been much better in the part.) Eyre was barely audible part of the time - and I was sitting fairly close to the front.
Bob Manning's set was nicely designed (given the severe limitations of a venue built mainly for dance), but the mess in Madison's apartment looked far too "stagey," instead of like real clutter.
There were also some sound problems (these may be simply part of the hall itself, but they're not unsurmountable). The ringing of both the telephone and the doorbell were much too loud, plus the sound should've come from smaller sources backstage rather than the large loudspeakers high overhead.
Curtain time was listed at 7:30 p.m., but the play didn't begin until 7:58. There was some nifty pre-show entertainment, by a local a capella quartet called Vocal Noyz. But, pardon me, I always thought pre-show, warm-up stuff should start 15 or 20 minutes prior to curtain - not delay the play half an hour. The music was terrific, just poorly timed.
- PLUSES: Things really picked up when Missy Birdsong-Sharette (cleanliness nut Florence Unger) came in. She gave Flo a sharply defined personality as she shifts from suicidal depression into a Martha Stewart-ish whirlwind.
The show got an even bigger lift during the second scene of Act Two when the two Costazuela brothers - Manolo and Jesus - enter the fray. (Their counterparts in Neil Simon's better known male version of "The Odd Couple" are the Pigeon sisters.)
Short, stocky Christopher Miller (Jesus) and tall, handsome Patric Knight, are perfectly cast as the two Spanish guys from upstairs who Madison lines up as dates for what she hopes is an evening that will turn the tide in Unger's disastrous three-week stay.
The dialogue and comedic timing in this segment, especially the hilarious exchange between Miller, Knight and Birdsong-Sharette, reached the kind of artistic level the entire show should - and could - be.
The rest of the cast (Nancy Roth as Sylvie, Lenore Cambria as ditzy Vera, Reb Fleming as Renee and the aforementioned Michelle Wilson as Mickey) was excellent.
Simon's dialogue ranges from cleverly witty to slightly vulgar.
When Florence is showing her family scrapbook to Manolo and Jesus, she comments on her husband (from whom she was recently separated): "Sidney isn't Spanish; but his hair probably is."
Then there's Olive, during a tirade about one of Florence's terse little notes left around the apartment - the one about "We're all out of corn flakes. (signed) F.U." . . . "It took me three hours to figure out that F.U. stood for Florence Unger."
Despite the rough spots on opening night, "The Odd Couple" is a nice beginning for Salt Lake City's newest company.
- Sensitivity rating: Some mild vulgarity and sexual dialogue (when Madison and her friends are involved in chatty "girl talk," but it's kept to a minimum.
SCPI's upcoming productions include the film-noirish "Detective Story" tentatively scheduled for Sept. 17-Oct. 3. The romantic comedy, "Bus Stop," is among those being considered for one of the remaining two slots, Feb. 18-March 6 and June 3-19.