Oscar and Felix
Review by Natalie Pendergast
Oscar and Felix have nothing in common except each other. In this play, not so much about an odd couple as it is about a true friendship, there lies a subtle message that committed relationships don’t exist only in marriages.
The play begins on the beautiful Victoria Playhouse stage, presently adorned with the simple decor of the living and dining rooms of a nice New York flat. A group of bachelors are playing poker and subjecting themselves to Oscar’s (Bill McFadden) wisecracks. The married member of the group, Felix, is late for the game because he was kicked out by his wife. When he finally shows up, the men’s first assumption is that he is suicidal, because the feat of expressing one’s sorrow any other way is of course worse than death.
Luckily, they figure out a more reasonable solution to Felix’s problem and decide he will room with Oscar until he finds a place of his own. It is at this point that the play reaches its peak in entertainment. For the rest of the performance, the story rolls along until its anticlimactic conclusion.
Eskine Smith is perfect as a hypochondriac Felix whose voice effectively cracks and sea-saws with emotional expression, and McFadden is a natural Oscar with a Rodney Dangerfield stand-up quality that makes the play feel very New York-appropriate. But some of the other acting suffers.
What could have been a very humourous and charming scene between two Spanish sisters and Oscar and Felix turns out to feel just as awkward for the audience as it does for the characters. Furthermore, the girls’ accents are not as polished as they could be and at times sound more Slavic and throaty than Spanish and exotic.
But the first half of the play is where the bulk of the Oscar and Felix banter takes place, where more important than the word play is the dynamic between actors McFadden and Smith. Neil Simon’s writing comes alive during these scenes when Oscar and Felix compliment and clash each other wonderfully in most harmonious arguments. Like a Beethoven symphony in which the brass call and the strings answer, Oscar and Felix keep up a rhythmic dialogue that puts musical duets to shame. And the chemistry between McFadden and Smith bring the realness of their sticky roommate situation right into our laps. Each of the audience members can relate to both men, on the one hand feeling annoyed at high strung, obsessive neat freak types, and on the other, being the high strung, obsessive neat freak types.
Although the writing and acting seem promising, after intermission the remaining half is underwhelming. The couple continue to get on each others’ nerves until finally—surprise!—Oscar kicks Felix out after they both supposedly reach their boiling points. But their anger is never very convincing, because they maintain the same emotional expression throughout the entire play, it is an emotion that is well expressed, but static just the same.
Oscar and Felix decide their friendship is worth too much to let it fall apart so they have a twenty-odd second conversation and patch up. They decide to continue being different and to always be there for each other: a resolution that both agree is much simpler than divorce.
The Neil Simon updated classic Oscar & Felix is still timeless and well-written. And thanks to McFadden and Smith, the Victoria Playhouse does it justice.