The Playgoer: "Odd Couple" drubbing

Custom Search

Friday, October 28, 2005

"Odd Couple" drubbing

While Washington awaits a 2pm "envelope, please" press conference, New York awakens to its own highly awaited verdict--and no less damaging to the politics of Broadway. Yes, the rumors had been flying for weeks. But I'm not sure anyone logging on late last night was expecting what became clear in Mr. Brantley's first two paragraphs:

Odd is not the word for this couple. How could an adjective suggesting strangeness or surprise apply to a production so calculatedly devoted to the known, the cozy, the conventional?

Consider the basic ingredients of the bland, mechanical new revival of Neil Simon's "Odd Couple," starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, at the Brooks Atkinson Theater...

In case one hoped for better from the lesser-impact dailies, there was this from veteran Howard Kissel in the Daily News: "Neither of them [Lane and Broderick]- nor director Joe Mantello - appears to have given any consideration to the characters Simon has written."
Those rooting for the show could at least take some solace in Linda Weiner's tepid thumbs-up in Newsday and Clive Barnes flat out (almost bribe-worthy!) rave in the Post. (By process of elimination, then, he must be the very "prominent critic" Michael Riedel tells a very funny, sad story about overheard at Joe Allen's.)

The most revealing comment may be this, from Eric Grode in the Sun: "[it] feels like an event, but the wrong kind of event. The impression is like one of those one-night-only benefit readings, with a few extra weeks of rehearsal thrown at it." Now director Joe Mantello is nothing if not a serious craftsman. If anything, I worried his Odd Couple might come out too "sensitive" and over-rehearsed for Simon's hilarious yet brittle script. But the consensus here seems to be (abetted by the gossip, to be sure) this was a limited rehearsal process with two somewhat miscast stars to begin with. Resorting to their reliable respective schticks, they pull through some laughs. But now people may be wondering why they've been suckered into spending so much money on "the hottest ticket on Broadway."

It's probably straining to extract "lessons" from this. (Especially when Playgoer has not seen it!) But remember this: this was the ultimate producer-driven "packaged deal." Most non-musical plays on Broadway these days have basically been imported from and "tried out" in the non-profit arena, where they are cast and rehearsed under less commercial driven artistic conditions. The producers of The Odd Couple have taken a shot at the "old" model of putting something up straight on Broadway. They may indeed be very happy financially, since the show is already sold out through April (a neutering effect most of the reviews lament). The recent Glengarry was also produced on this model (also directed by the frequently for-hire Mantello) and also made a killing; it also raked in much better reviews--but one wonders how much that even mattered to the box office.

Where's my point? Perhaps this: that The Odd Couple is still a fine play and deserves a small place in our repertory of national classics. And therefore it probably deserves more careful treatment than the current conditions forced on a commercial-only Broadway product can allow. And to producers--and artists--who set forth on such neatly packaged money-making ventures, don't expect the critics to play along.

UPDATE: Teachout weighs in, as well, today in WSJ, which is pay-only, so check out the excerpts of his "nay" vote on AboutLastNight

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is no reason for these artists, who could do nearly anything, to do this crap. Except narcissism. They have been rewarded for their desperate grasp at even more attention -- by getting it in spades. Hahahahaha, let them laugh all the way to the bank. Their riches increase while their souls suffer.