Thursday, 14 May 2015

Taking Apart the Human Mind with Neil Simon: Adjudication of The Odd Couple at Theatre Ontario Festival 2015

by Brandon Moore, Communications Coordinator
The Odd Couple
Presented by Oshawa Little Theatre
James Burrell, Steve Maddiss, Tom Lynch

Highlights of the detailed adjudication by Ron Cameron-Lewis of Oshawa Little Theatre's production of The Odd Couple by Neil Simon.
  • Neil Simon on playwriting: Like a mechanic takes apart a car, a playwright takes apart a human mind.
  • From the public adjudication: the set as Oscar's home could have benefited from more of his presence.
  • Concessions were made to remount the show, originally produced in October and they thought they were done with it.
  • Originally they did have a desk for the typewriter (the china cabinet they used felt more like the ex-wife than Oscar.)
  • Also the messier the set, the trickier the logistics of the clean-up between Act 1 and Act 2 (when there was no intermission.)
  • Lighting was also difficult; they had problems in the original production lighting the S.L. area around the window, caused problems with a dark area around S.L. of the sofa.
  • The closet was a late reveal during the performance; it was under-used during the blocking of the show and could have been used earlier in the play.
  • The apartment floor-plan seemed implausible.
  • The opening moment was glorious with the generous amounts of “cigar smoke” haze: a stunning way to start the play.
  • The actor who had been cast as Vinnie in the first production had to withdraw due to an injury; the remount gave him an opportunity to perform.
  • Roy had also been recast; actor had only three rehearsals in the role.
  • Well-executed visual comedy: the beer opening and spraying everywhere had authenticity, seemed to catch everyone by surprise.
  • Lighting enhancements can be a useful tactic to draw the audience’s eye and focus attention on a moment: Just enhancing the area in question 5-10% more while taking the rest of the set 5-10% less.
  • Eyes are the window intoa character’s soul – make sure the audience can see the actor's eyes.
  • The windows of the set could have benefited from more of the grime of New York City.
  • Oscar had some excellent timing on many lines.
  • Toilet flushes were well-executed sound effects: timing, sense of direction.
  • Vocal variety is a useful tool for performers; In Act One and Two, Felix tended to hold a single note through his lines, as opposed to finding different notes to reflect his emotional turmoil; variance in rhythm is another useful tool for actors.
  • The problem is the tone becomes self-pitying; a character can feel sorry for themselves, but character must be trying to fight that.
  • One exercise Ron recommends (ED: Me too!) is doing scenes in a black room, no blocking, just vocal work on the text.
  • Wonderfully executed sight gags such as the cards flying everywhere on one of Felix’s entrances.
  • The four card players had strong differentiation among their characters; this made for an effective climax when they leave and then each return one by one.
  • When people leaves the room, there is always a change in the dynamic among the people who are left on stage. Explore these moments. It can simply be a moment of relief that needs to be lived in. But we interact differently in front of an audience (of other characters.)
  • Felix’s spasms: Physical moments can benefit from greater specificity—rather than generalized spasms, try more specific spasms.
  • Great trust between Oscar and Felix as they climb onto each other, etc.
  • Wonderful moment for Felix clearing his sinuses: effective because there was not a shred of dignity in it.
  • Explore all of the beats in significant moments of realization for a character e.g. Felix realizing that his marriage is over.
  • Scene change from Act One to Act Two was confusing for the audience. Some thought there was going to be an intermission and got up our of our seats. Felt like the house lights cue had been missed. Find ways to keep the action moving. Ron suggested bringing in a couple of stage crew sweeping downstage of the house curtain while the set was being cleaned upstage of the house curtain. As long as there is action happening, we remain engaged and there's no sense of "intermission."
  • Top of Act Two: A lovely example of change in dynamics of a relationship by the ensemble.
  • Oscar and the pickle: another wonderful visual moment.
  • Roy’s emotional build of outrage was excellent.
  • D.S. moment between Felix and Murray talking about the Playboy Club: This was an example of the effective use of comic stillness, beat by beat, “moments of repose.”
  • Comedy can thrive in moments where things are used in a way that you don’t expect: the potato chips, the ladle, and the apron was an effective sight gag.
  • The Pigeon Sisters are tricky characters: giggly, silly, charming, just a bit obnoxious; also trying to match their British dialects.
  • More great moments of physical comedy: Felix and the Sisters, turning 360 degrees in the chair, timing of lines: (“Where do you get your ideas?” / “From the news.”)
  • When the Pigeon Sisters start crying, vocally they were caught in their upper register, this make it hard on the ears, and sound becomes generalized.
  • The power of details within a moment: Oscar unplugging the vacuum cord (this moment almost didn’t happen as the vacuum handle broke during the afternoon run.)
  • An example of a wonderfully executed moment of repose: Oscar “It was signed F.U. ... It took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Unger.” Sequence: The actor moved, froze, delivered the set up-the line, moved, froze, and delivered the punchline.
  • Another example of the dynamic of a room changing on an entrance/exit: The card players reactions to the arrival of the Pigeon Sisters.
  • The period of play is not specified. While it is not contemporary, the company chose to place it in the 1970s.
  • Simon’s comedy is well-crafted.  He had a tragic childhood and he writes this pain into his plays; these experiences are heartbreaking for his characters.
(This is the final version of this post, edited post-Festival.)