Scott Burke directs MacFadden and Smith as Oscar and Felix
by Natalie Pendergast
The Victoria Playhouse opens its 25th summer season with Neil Simon’s legendary comedy The Odd Couple, now an updated version entitled Oscar & Felix. Although the pairing of Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar may be odd, the union of acting duo Bill McFadden and Erskine Smith is a perfect match. Fifteen years ago, McFadden and Smith starred in the same roles in the Playhouse’s original production of Simon’s classic, and their performance was met with so much success that they have decided to repeat history. “They wanted to reunite Erskine and Bill and revisit a big hit production,” says director Scott Burke.
Though The Odd Couple has always filled seats, the version set to hit the stage this summer has been tweaked a bit. “It is set today,” says Burke. “Back in 1965 divorce was a little less prevalent than it is today.” Simon has also changed the ethnicity of the women with whom Oscar and Felix go on their famous date, a switch that adds even more room for humour. “In the original play they were English girls, the Pigeon sisters, and in this version they are Spanish girls, they’re the Costazuela sisters,” explains Burke, “So that gives a lot of opportunity for mixing up of languages and translating from English to Spanish. It’s really a great source of comedy in the second act.”
What remains unchanged in the script are the qualities that make this production a timeless hit: excellent writing, and real sentimentality sans corny clichés. For Burke, the quality of Simon’s vision made the play an attractive directorial opportunity. “We kind of take [Neil Simon] for grated. He gets maligned a lot I think,” He says, “But he’s really actually a brilliant, brilliant writer. This original play really chronicled an important time in American history about men growing up. Their wives have thrown them out and they have to figure out why they were thrown out and how they can grow up and be better people. And I think that actually speaks of something about America; some things that haven’t actually changed and some things that have changed, but it really speaks about something much bigger than fun and games with two divorced guys.”
As delighted as he is to direct Oscar and Felix, Burke is equally pleased with his cast. Having first met Smith in 1998 when he directed Scavengers at the Victoria Playhouse, he has always kept in touch. When Smith suggested McFadden for the role of Oscar, Burke agreed he was the one. What makes the play such a pleasure to direct, says Burke, is the ease with which Smith falls into his character’s shoes. “He’s one of the big draws to the theatre here. People come to see Erskine!” Says Burke, “[With] recognizable characters, great laughs, I think it’s a good chance for the Victoria Playhouse to celebrate its past and present.”
Shows run from June 22 to July 22 at the Victoria Playhouse, Victoria, PEI.