The Odd Couple

“I don’t think two single men living alone in an eight-bedroom apartment should have a cleaner house than my mother!” – Oscar Madison…

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            This requires a little back story. Don’t worry, I don’t mean voluminous amounts like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, more like the beginning of Season 3 of Agents of Shield or Sleepy Hollow or the usual modern-day TV drama … it won’t take long.

Spring 1981 – my High School drama club tried to put on the farce “Murder in the Magnolias”. I tried out for and got the part of Cousin Thornbird Chickenwing. Two girls tried out for the main part. Both girls had earlier in the school year also tried out for the hand of an eligible young man. The same girl won both parts. The other girl’s BFF (a term in use now, not in 1981) also got a part of “Murder …” and there was much yelling, hair-pulling and thrown punches.

Add more raging hormones: the part of Colonel Chickenwing, whose monolog opens the play, was given to a young man who felt the need to leave practice after his one-and-only-yet-pivotal scene to go to his girlfriend’s house to ooo and aaa sycophantically over her. Said young man not realizing that it is possible, indeed likely, that we might need to go over his scene more than once.

Add a drama club coach fresh out of college and only four-or-so years away from these very issues herself and it added to uncontrolled rehearsals and cast members walking out with three weeks to go. Not that by this time anyone had known their lines or marks yet.

So they cancelled the play that spring.

Fall 1981 – the Sparta (IL) Community Chorus is known for putting on lovely and very professional musicals! This year they selected “Oklahoma”. I tried out for and was given a small part with one line. George was the character and his line was “sounded like a shot!” I was also in the dream ballet. You read that right. About five years later it was announced the SCC would begin doing plays as well as musicals.

Spring 1982 – in our senior year of high school we put on “The Odd Couple”. I tried for and won the part of Felix Unger (or Ungar in the play). My best friend Scott tried out for and won the part of Oscar. It was typecasting at the time, and it was a wonderful play. It was also well-received. Drama clubs from schools as far as Benton came to see us. We had articles in the papers and reviews on local radio shows. It was probably the second-best show the school put on next to “Arsenic and Old Lace” from 1978. Oh, and the girl who won the part main part in “Murder…”? She was one of the Pigeon sisters in “Odd Couple”.

Winter 2014 – I am Facebook friends with the girl (now grandmother) mentioned above in “Murder…” and “Odd Couple”. She has been involved with the SCC for decades by this point and announced that she would direct “Murder in the Magnolias” for their Winter Play (rehearsal in January and February with the play in early March). I posted that I would love to try out for it but the dress from Act Two probably would not fit me anymore.

She asked me to try out for it anyway. Try-outs were the weekend of our family Christmas party and the day after my wife and I went to see Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas concert in St. Louis. My daughter spent the night at my sister’s and her four children.  It was her first time away from us and they ate nachos and “camped” in the living room. We needn’t have worried.

At the auditions the director asked if I were trying out for my old part, Thornbird. Yes, I was. Would I also be interested in trying out for the Colonel? Sure, I said. This has since turned into a comedy routine: “Are you dumb enough to take two parts – er – I mean are you will to do two roles?”

I worked in radio for ten years and also did stand-up during that time. Both require a bit of acting but not the kind you really do on a stage. “Oh that this too solid flesh would melt” is light years ahead of “two Jews walk into a bar”. But by the time my family and I drove home the director called to say I got both parts! Both she and I got to finish a part of our youth. The circle was complete. Hakuna Matata! Plus I made lots of wonderful new friends!

Fall 2014 – The SCC announces that its fall musical would be “Legally Blonde”. They usually “begin” the season in the fall with a musical, followed by a kid’s cabaret at Christmastime, then a play, then a musical review. They asked if I would try out and respectfully declined. It was a wonderful production! It would have played well at the Fox Theater in St. Louis. Excellent stuff from a bunch of so-called amateurs.

Winter 2015 – The SCC announces its play in December 2014 – “Unnecessary Farce”. The director – who played the part in “Murder…” that “Murder…”’s director played with me in high school (are you still following this?) asked me to try out for the Scottish hitman. Can I do a Scottish accent? “Och, ye needn’t wurrah ‘bout dat, lassie!” I said. In December I tried out for and won the part of Todd, the Highland Hitman. It was a big hit with the audience in stitches!

Fall 2015 – the spring musical review was the music of Michael Jackson. They asked if I would be interested but said no thanks. The playhouse was an hour-and-a-half drive from home – although I could stop off to visit with my father and/or sister for an hour or so each time. That much driving really takes a toll on me and my car, but so far the plays have been worth it. Brilliant fun! But doing a review so close to finishing a wonderful-but-very-complex comedy would be too much of a strain.

They had yet to announce the fall musical (remember they did musicals in the fall). Unless it was something that knocked my socks off – like “1776” or something equally fun or silly – I would probably not try out for it.

The announcement was made on the SCC Facebook page. It was not a musical! That was not unprecedented but it was still odd …

… that adjective was intentional …

In July the SCC held auditions for their October production of “The Odd Couple”. I asked for an audition packet. On a lark I emailed Scott to see if he were interested in trying out as a team – reliving our old glory days. He declined (actually he never answered …). So in July I tried out for Oscar and Felix.

Was I crazy? They were both huge roles in the play with hundreds of lines. I would be driving three to four days a week again! Getting home at eleven o’clock if I was lucky then getting up for work and/or court again!

But it was the Odd Couple – one of my favorite plays/movies/TV shows. Of course I would try out for it. There were about ten men trying out for the six male roles that Saturday. Fortunately, only two women showed up to audition for the two female roles. That would be easy, eh?

It wasn’t until Monday night that I heard from the director – she also had a part in the 2014 “Murder…” play. She offered me Oscar. I told her how happy and thrilled I was. I told her I played Felix in high school, but didn’t mention it earlier. I was afraid I’d get a “you’ve-had-your-chance” response. I should not have worried

I wanted Oscar more than Felix. Felix would have been great fun – joking about 33 years between the roles, beating out Jack Lemon by three years! But something inside me wanted the role of Oscar more. Maybe it was the challenge of being on the other side of the fence – how many people can say they’ve played both parts?

I spent July until the first read-throughs in mid-August watching the plays online and reading the script I still had. It’s a lot of lines, so I didn’t feel like I was cheating trying to get a head start. Plus work was light in August (I had both my staff members off on vacation and other things and I was in the office alone for a full week – plenty of time to shout out my lines in an empty office at lunchtime and between appointments).

And now we are practicing. The drive is a drag, but rehearsals are wonderful; the cast is wonderful and I enjoy working with each one of them. It is a mix of new friends and old comrades from previous plays.

As they said on the Simpsons, “perhaps we are all a little mad, we who don the cap and bells and tread beneath the proscenium arch”. For the second time this year to spend three hours a day/three days a week for two –plus months driving to perform in an amateur production for no monetary gain – only for accolades? Only for the sounds of laughter and applause?

Is it worth it?

Are you kidding?

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Original material copyright 2015 Michael Curry

 

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