October 28, 2021

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‘The Odd Couple’ cast deals out humor in Green Bay

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Some plays are old and not old at the same time.

A play in which a pack of cigarettes costs 38 cents is old.

A play in which rent for an eight-room apartment in the heart of New York City is $240 a month is old.

A play in which two guys – one a newspaper sportswriter, the other a CBS News writer – have marriage problems is not old.

A play in which humor is the main thing is not old.

“The Odd Couple” is the old/not old play running in Green Bay Community Theater’s Robert Lee Brault Playhouse as the historic troupe’s first live, in-person production since “Bus Stop” closed March 1, 2020.

Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” earned the status of legend since opening in 1965 – the trifecta of Broadway, movie and TV success. And a go-to play for community theaters everywhere for year upon year.

The play is a faithful standby for audience recognition of a frothy New Yorkese kind of comedy that’s a bit frenetic and over-the-top loud and knowing and clever and funny.

Much turns around the line, “It’s all your fault! You’re the one who stopped him from killing himself!”

A poker game has broken up early because it’s no longer any fun. Six guys used to gather every week to smoke, drink, carp at each other’s playing peculiarities and complain about Oscar Madison’s food fare that was borderline fatal. A sandwich with something green on it is either fresh cheese or old meat.

And then one of the players, flighty Felix Unger, got kicked out by his wife and came to Oscar’s place on poker night to let on he has swallowed a whole bottle of pills. Death by vitamin pills being the long route to suicide, Felix survives and Oscar gives him a place to stay. Clean freak Felix proceeds to clean up sloppy Oscar’s dumpiness to the point that everything is and has to be pristine. Oh, Felix makes great, gourmet sandwiches, but poker night is painfully fastidious now. Fun has taken a run at breakneck speed. “It’s all your fault,” Oscar is told. “You’re the one who stopped him from killing himself!”

Veteran director Craig Berken and his cast leap into this fray with a sense of energy and confidence. A few moments of hesitancy early on in delivering lines on opening night Thursday melted away, and the production crackled along.

First is comical guy byplay around the poker table, a series of back-and-forth one-liners from Gary Wisneski as Speed, Bryan Siebers as Murray the cop, Devon Breecher as Roy and Steven L. Troudt as Vinnie. They’re a solid combo.

Oscar (Tim Killian) is in the kitchen, preparing something borderline edible from the refrigerator that hasn’t worked in two weeks. Felix (Eric D. Westphal) is a concern around the table because word is he’s missing and has telegraphed his wife a suicide note.

The eventual presence of Felix is a catalyst for this whole thing to really take off.

Eric D. Westphal unleashes Felix’s smorgasbord of aches, pains and quirky/gross habits of weird noises from orifices in his head. Something akin to a moose call is a remedy for one of his clogs.

For every Felix oddball action, Tim Killian has an equal and opposite explosive reaction as Oscar is driven to distraction.

Eric D. Westphal and Tim Killian have bunches of quick-timed, heated comedy that rolls and rolls. The two are the solid core of the production.

And then there’s the Pigeon sisters. Oscar met the upstairs neighbors in a stalled elevator, and the divorcee and widow from England are primed for company. A dinner date is set at Oscar’s – Felix is chef – and Gwendolyn (Katie Schroeder) and Cecily (Raechal Wozniak-Sanford) arrive all a-giggle and ready for a night of anything goes. Oscar is in the kitchen making drinks when Felix essentially steers this plane into a Hudson River of tears.

This is a classic sequence, and everyone does her/his part to show its reputation stands. The comedy is delicious and nicely-nicely played.

Much care also has gone into the look of the apartment – the furnishings, the layout, the items on the shelves. There’s a sense of place that helps with the feel of what happens in the space.

After 18 months of maybe, no and oh no, Green Bay Community Theater is back in operation with an entertaining show.

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Creative: Playwright – Neil Simon; director – Craig Berken; stage manager – Kathy Berken; set dressing designer – Sandy Zochert; costume designer – Rochelle Van Erem; lighting and sound designer – Kaitlin Honkanen; properties designer – Karen Konshak; hair and make-up designer – Jackie Ploor; production coordinators – Lina Green and Patricia Grimm carpenters – Warren Elliott, Kym Helmle, Michael Palubicki, Jeremy Stujenske, Noah Villarreal; scenic painter – Charlie Fries

Cast (in order of appearance):

Speed – Gary Wisneski

Murray – Bryan Siebers

Roy – Devon Breecher

Vinnie – Steven L. Troudt

Oscar Madison – Tim Killian

Felix Ungar – Eric D. Westphal

Gwendolyn – Katie Schroeder

Cecily – Raechal Wozniak-Sanford

Running time: Two hours, 20 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17; 4 p.m. Sept. 18; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22-24; and 4 p.m. Sept. 25-26

Info: gbcommunitytheater.com

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NEXT: “Greetings!” by Tom Dudzick, Nov. 26-28, Dec. 1-5.

THE VENUE: Green Bay Community Theater is one of the few community theaters that owns its performance space – and rehearsal space under the same roof. Stability is a big benefit. A landmark on Green Bay’s west side, the 193-seat Robert Lee Brault Playhouse features elements of an earlier time as a church, built in 1854 (the current backstage dressing room), 1895 (auditorium) and 1911 (today’s Community Room). The most obvious remnants are the church’s peaked side-wall windows with stained glass that is covered. High-up triangular windows still contain stained glass, and their patterns can be seen playing on sunny days when the troupe has matinees. The auditorium includes a 30 by 23-foot open-end stage with no stage curtain. The troupe has remodeled some portions of the building with medieval touches, but the seating area retains elements of a church. The theater includes wooden arches with decorative geometric designs on the ends and exposed beams in the sharply angled ceiling. The stage front consists of woodwork of repeated arches that looks to be repurposed wainscoting from other parts of the building. The troupe owns the building, which became its home in 1966. The Community Room serves as a gathering space for audiences prior to a performance and at intermission and for board and other internal meetings.

THE PERSON: Larger-than-life personality Robert Lee Brault was a longtime Green Bay Community Theater actor, director, scenic designer and managing director. He and his wife, Rita Brault, were mainstays from the time the troupe performed at various locations through the purchase of the present playhouse. Bob Brault died Nov. 1, 2015, in Florida at age 88. The troupe has established a special programming and education fund in his name.

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