12 November 2016

Review: The Odd Couple

The Odd Couple
Melbourne Theatre Company
12 November 2016
The Sumner
to 17 December

Shaun Micallef, Michala Banas, Christie Whelan Browne, Francis Greenslade. Photo by Jeff Busby

“Is she pregnant? No just fat.” Boom-boom. It’s such a good week to remind us that women are best kept pretty or pregnant.

The Odd Couple is the MTC’s end-of-year already-close-enough-to-sold-out cash-cow show with Shaun Micallef as Felix, the neat-freak cow, and Francis Greenslade, as Oscar the messy bull.

The Neil Simon play opened on Broadway in 1965 and became better known by its 1968 film and the 1970’s spin-off TV series. It’s about middle-aged straight white men with comfortable incomes, and based on the absurdity that two men could live together as a couple. When Felix’s marriage breaks up, he moves in with his lonely divorced mate Oscar in his New York appartment. To make it easy to understand the ha-ha, Felix likes doing girl things like looking nice, cooking and cleaning.

And even though this feminine side creates chuckles, it’s still stronger than the women in the play. The two onstage woman talk about taking off their clothes in front of the fridge when they are hot – silly girls – but they are very pretty and their impact on the story is minimal. There are more offstage women: wives and ex-wives who annoy the men by calling on poker night (there are four poker buddies) and are complained about, laughed at and lied to.

Sure, it was written at a time when nasty women didn’t get involved in politics or write much about peecee theatre – but why bring it back? Neil Simon is a terrific writer, but would he write this now?

There’s more to the script than easy jokes, but it’s hard to see much exploration of it. There’s plenty to reflect on about men who have been broken by the end of their marriages, but Micallef crying like a buffoon and mugging does little more than resemble emotion.

It’s as hard to see irony, reflection or self awareness on the stage. Apart from the face-slap irony that Micallef and Greenslade have created some of the sharpest political satire on television. And that it’s presented by the same company that recently gave us Straight White Men, which ripped the privileged dead heart out of plays like this, and Lilith the Jungle Girl, which put a queer heart back into anyone who has never seen themselves represented on a commercial stage.

Is The Odd Couple the commercial price for these shows? But why this show? There are lots of commercial, funny, successful, money-making plays that these actors could have done. There are plays that don’t have a cast of six middle aged white men and two pretty young women.

If it’s just harmless escapism for the subscribers, who are these people who want to escape to a world that’s dominated by middle-aged straight white men who laugh about how they deceive and trick women, and think that “Chinese” food is exotic? Are they really the people who subscribe?

At least there wasn’t a pussy-grabbing gag. But maybe that would have said something about us and now.

This was on AussieTheatre.com..

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