Shylo Smith’s Oscar Madison has an argument with roommate Felix Ungar, played by Kelly Kijek, while friends Roy and Murray, played by Tracy Ottenbreit Rob Atkinson, (from right) keep them apart in the Nanaimo Theatre Group production of The Odd Couple. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo Theatre Group begins 2019-20 season with ‘The Odd Couple’

Production pays tribute to playwright Neil Simon who died last summer

The Nanaimo Theatre Group is beginning its 2019-20 season with a play commemorating one of the most popular playwrights of the 20th century.

From Oct. 19 to Nov. 2 the local theatre company is staging the 1965 Tony-award winning play The Odd Couple by American playwright Neil Simon, who died at 91 last summer. The play follows a pair of unlikely roommates: neat freak news writer Felix Ungar and sloppy sportswriter Oscar Madison. In the decades following its theatre run the play went on to be adapted into a cartoon, two movies and three sitcoms.

Director Linda Bezooyen wanted to revive one of Simon’s plays in his honour and said she was surprised to learn that the NTG has never mounted The Odd Couple.

“Usually every theatre group that’s been around since the ’60s has done it at least once,” she said.

Bezooyen, who mostly directs comedies, said The Odd Couple is her favourite of Simon’s work and even though the play is 54 years old, stories about dysfunctional friendships are always current.

Shylo Smith plays Oscar in his first comedic role. He said comedy is more challenging than drama and he’s been relying on Bezooyen’s guidance.

“It seems to be, to me, a lot easier just to deal with the emotional range of a drama because you’re not trying to entice laughter. You’re not trying to grab a moment and make it serious but still get a laugh…” he said. “In comedy you’re trying to get that same connection with the audience but you want them to then turn around and laugh at it.”

He said Oscar has many levels to explore as his character changes after Felix moves in with him.

“He starts off he’s just sort of, ‘Whatever, it’s my life, I’m living it and I’m enjoying it,’” Smith said. “And then going to having a roommate who’s not like that and dealing with that sort of conflict, if you will, and then finally coming to realize that that was a good thing for him and he’s become a better person for it.”

Kelly Kijek plays Felix. He said getting into his character has been driving him crazy, adding that “Freud would have a field day” psychoanalyzing Felix.

“He’s neurotic, OCD, whiny, attention seeking, neat freak to the core … he’s perfect for a shrink’s dissertation,” Kijek said.

Both actors said they relate to both characters.

“Oscar serves warm beer and nasty food and that’s something I would never do, or he leaves things lying around the house. I’m a stickler for picking things up but I’m not Felix to the point where I’m organizing my socks by colour,” Smith said.

“I’m very organized as far as colour coding clothes, making sure my library’s alphabetized, and DVDs, my record collection,” Kijek said. “Having said that, when I come home I just throw my clothes everywhere. So there’s the Oscar in me as well.”

WHAT’S ON … Nanaimo Theatre Group presents The Odd Couple at Bailey Studio, 2373 Rosstown Rd., on Oct. 17 to 19, 23 to 26, 30, 31 and Nov. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 20 and 27 at 2 p.m. Tickets $20, available from 250-758-7224 and online.

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