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The Odd Couple 

Francis Albert is right: The best is yet to come.

He makes the musical promise right before the beginning of Act II of the Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of The Odd Couple. Stick around -- Act II (and a teeny bit of Act III) of Neil Simon's period piece comes alive thanks to Meredith Zinner, a sliver of an actress who plays Cecily Pigeon, half of the veddy British sisters who live upstairs from Oscar Madison.

Zinner is -- there is no other way to say this -- Joan Rivers on speed and with Tourette's. This is a very good, and very, very funny, thing. She breathes new life into the stale play about two mismatched men, sportswriter slob Oscar Madison and suicidal neatnik Felix Unger, living together after Felix's wife tosses him out on his permanently-pressed ass.

The play was fun the first time around, and in a few of its many incarnations. But now, more than 40 years after its Broadway debut, there are more dust bunnies than laughs. Even Simon knew he had to do something when, back in 1985, he changed Oscar and Felix to Olive and Florence, making a female Odd Couple, with the Pigeon Sisters now known as the Costazuela Brothers. A hit it was not.

One of the biggest problems is that the show is nothing more than a series of punch lines, varying in degrees of humor. And too much of a good thing, in this case, can be a bad thing. (The "FU" line still gets the biggest laugh, and always will.) Come to think of it, The Odd Couple would make a great pilot for a TV show.

On opening night, Andrew Polk worked too hard to find Oscar's resignation and rhythm; his boozing, gruff way was way too tame, and it undermined the chemistry between him and John Scherer's fey, fussy Felix. Scherer's non-adenoidal performance was (thankfully) not affected or false, and he did manage to find Felix's heart and humanity, sometimes lost in all the deodorizing and dusting. There was at least one precious moment of unintentional humor: Eyeing his burnt-beyond-recognition London broil, Felix cries, "Nobody likes black meat!" Then watch (and listen) to Zinner's reaction.

Director Ted Pappas holds it all together (tough on a thrust stage), and the set is a time capsule of the '60s. But for a slob, that's the cleanest living room I've ever seen.

Patrons taking their seats are greeted with cool pop classics of the era: "Blue Velvet," by Bobby Vinton; "Downtown," by Pet Clark; "Danke Schoen" by Wayne Newton; "Love Me Do," by The Beatles; and "Happy Together," by The Turtles. It's the soundtrack I want. And Meredith Zinner's autograph.

 

The Odd Couple continues through Sun., June 29. Pittsburgh Public Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-316-1600 or www.ppt.org

click to enlarge Simon says (from left): John Scherer, Emma Bowers, Meredith Zinner and Andrew Polk in the Pittsburgh Public Theater's The Odd Couple. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RIC EVANS
  • Photo courtesy of Ric Evans
  • Simon says (from left): John Scherer, Emma Bowers, Meredith Zinner and Andrew Polk in the Pittsburgh Public Theater's The Odd Couple.

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