A neat-freak and a slob join forces to give an evolving Mill Race Theatre Company, formerly known as the Mill Race Players, a tidy way this weekend to step into a widening spotlight of productions.
So it will be with Neil Simon’s classic stage work “The Odd Couple,” where opposites have attracted enough laughs in a half-century to see the work recreated in a 1960s successful movie, 1970s top TV show and then reincarnated with yet-another recent TV turn with modern actors.
The play, the first of four from the troupe this year, unfolds Friday through Sunday at Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St. in Columbus.
The show is being presented at Mill Race Center for several reasons, director Alycyn Pratt said:
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The age 50-plus crowd who participate in daily and special-event programming there are likely familiar with the story.
The center is among local venues allowing an intimate setting conducive to a small cast and show.
“More than anything, I want people to enjoy the magic and genius of Neil Simon taking everyday people and making them hilarious,” said Pratt, who already was a fan of the 1968 film with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the leads. “And I would like for people to appreciate the nostalgia of that period (of the 1960s) and introduce that era to new audiences.”
Local audiences last saw Odd Couple actor Stephen Planalp in Mill Race’s over-the-top, adult-style comedy, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” in the fall. That was part of the local troupe’s effort to stretch beyond mostly summertime, children’s-oriented extravaganzas.
“This certainly is more grounded than the Shakespeare abridged,” Planalp said. “But it’s definitely no less funny.”
Planalp plays Felix Ungar, a fastidious newswriter who is thrown out by his wife and moves in with pal Oscar Madison (Daniel Wiehe), a easygoing sportswriter so sloppy that food regularly spoils in the fridge of his New York City Park Avenue apartment.
“’The Odd Couple’ is one of those timeless pieces that people can connect with regardless of where they are in their lives,” Planalp said.
Wiehe explained why.
“People obviously will find a lot of familiar things in this,” Wiehe said. “But we want to bring a youthful exuberance to this. If people enjoyed the original (story), they certainly will enjoy this.
“I don’t wish to precisely mimic Walter Matthau’s amazing (movie) rendition of Oscar. I’m just trying to do what I feel the character would do in a situation.”
Simon’s dialogue often is fast-paced and frequently takes its humor from Oscar’s offbeat reasoning, including when a depressed Felix acknowledges that he ingested a bottle of pills in an apparent attempt to end it all. The following exchange ensues after poker friend/policeman Murray springs into action.
Murray: A whole bottle of pills! My God, get an ambulance!
Oscar: Wait a minute, will ya? We don’t even know what kind.
Murray: What difference does it make? He took a whole bottle!
Oscar: Well, maybe they were vitamins. He could be the healthiest one in the room.
What: Mill Race Theatre Company’s production of the Neil Simon comedy, “The Odd Couple.”
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St., Columbus.
Tickets: $12 general admission; $10 students and seniors.
Note: The production contains some adult language and is intended for mature audiences.
Cast: Daniel Wiehe as Oscar Madison; Stephen Planalp as Felix Ungar; Nick Hogan as Speed; Mark Webber as Murray; Ben Walker as Roy; Scott Heise as Vinnie; Allison Lindhorst as Gwendolyn Pigeon; and Emily Nolting as Cecily Pigeon.
Information: Facebook page for Mill Race Theatre Company.
The recent name change of Mill Race Players to Mill Race Theatre Company reflects the long-running local troupe’s effort to reflect all its membership — not just the actors and actresses, but technical people, marketing volunteers, set designers and others.
Plus, members realized that a younger generation does not identify as readily with the term players as an older audience might.
Caitlin Smith, president of the troupe’s 15-member board, said the group is poised for audience growth and development.
The theatre company will continue to use multiple local facilities for shows in order to reach new ticket buyers and to fit the intent and purpose of each production.