By Julie Ann Madden
It’s “odd” from its name to its stage setting.
The play’s name is “The Odd Couple” with the main two characters as polar opposites — one guy is a clean freak and the other a slob.
The stage is called “In The Round,” meaning the play is performed in the middle of a circle with the audience surrounding them.
At the Akron Opera House, where this production begins Jan. 24, the “Round” is in the center of the main floor, which is typically where the majority of the audience sits.
“It’s not all played to one direction,” said Production Director Karen Taylor-Mortensen. “It needs to be played to the ‘Round’ — to the audience all around you.”
In the Round, the setting is the living area of Oscar Madison’s home where plenty of card playing happens.
“It’s going to be a really good experience being done in the Round,” said Tim Blum of Westfield who plays Oscar. “We’re actually going to be almost stepping on people’s toes. As we move around the set, it’ll be like being in the room with us.”
“I’m enjoying the fact you can’t not be facing the audience,” he said. “There’s none of that having your back to the audience.”
“It’s more natural,” said Blum. “You don’t have to make yourself face the front of the stage all the time but look like you’re talking to a person when you’re actually missing eye-to-eye contact.”
“We’ll go eye-to-eye (with fellow characters),” he explained. “Depending on what angle we are is who will get the good shot of us.”
“You can travel a long ways and not find shows any better than in Akron,” said Blum, adding the recent Brown’s Christmas Show is a good example. Some people who had attended the show at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City and then came to the performance at the Akron Opera House, told him they enjoyed it much more here. “They could see the performers faces because they were sitting a few feet or a few yards away from them instead of being in the back of the North Forty.”
“Closeness in the Round is going to make that even more so,” he said. “The performance will be moving. The Round will make us right here amongst them instead of up on stage. They’ll be able to tell whether I used after-shave or not.”
Pulling together six poker players and two English “ditsy broads” in the Neil Simon’s three-act play, “The Odd Couple,” was a challenge in 1974.
It’s deja vu for this play’s director. Taylor-Mortensen is doing it again.
Forty years ago, Karen Taylor (now Taylor-Mortensen) was undertaking the role of directing her second play production at the Akron Opera House, which was called the Akron Community Theatre back then.
And back then was “BC,” before computers and electronic gadgets of this relatively-new century.
Taylor-Mortensen is busy brainstorming props with the cast of eight.
In one scene, a cup of coffee is thrown and the cup shatters. Back then, porcelain coffee cups shattering happened often but now with the invention of plastics, it’ll be interesting just what she comes up with as a prop. Another issue is with it being in the Round, cup shards could injure audience members.
Then there are language differences between the 1960s when the play was written and the culture of today. How does one portray “ditsy English broads” in the Year 2014?
These are all challenges Taylor-Mortensen is pondering as play practices were officially moved to the Round on Sunday.
Taylor-Mortensen made her directing debut at the Akron Opera House the year before “The Odd Couple” was performed. She first directed the “Girls in 509” in 1973.
It’s also deja vu for one of the characters in this next Akron Opera House production, which begins in just 17 days.
Well, sort of. Tim Blum is stepping into his father’s shoes once again as he is playing the character his father, the late Francis Blum, portrayed in the first “The Odd Couple” production.
“I was 26 years old, give or take a year, when I came to see my father’s performance of Oscar,” said Tim Blum. “I can’t remember back 40 years so I don’t know if I’m copying my dad’s mannerisms or not now. But, I am my father’s son so I expect I am.”
“He could smoke a cigar,” said Tim Blum. “I can’t so that’s a big difference.”
“I remember my dad being in his underwear,” laughed Blum, adding the audience won’t being seeing his as part of his costume if he can help it.
“I wanted to play Oscar because my dad did it,” he said. “I thought it would be fun.”
Now, portraying the cigar-smoking slob of Oscar isn’t really Blum’s true character — although he admits there might be quite a few who might say otherwise.
Playing Felix is Blum’s son, Wayne who wasn’t even born when the first production opened.
While his dad says he’s much more like an Oscar than a Felix, especially in the tidiness aspect, Wayne says Felix’s whole character is an opportunity for acting out of his real self.
Not only is Wayne playing the Type A clean freak, Felix is going through a divorce.
“I’ve never been married,” said Wayne. “It’s a little bit different looking at the whole divorce side of it. Hopefully (off stage) I’ll never have to deal with it.”
Although the father and son duo have a great relationship in real life, their two characters don’t. When Oscar, a slob, invites his friend, Felix, a clean freak to move in, Felix wears out his welcome in a matter of hours. At the end of a couple weeks, Oscar is ready to kill him.
“There is a lot of neat interaction between the card players that’s really fun to watch, too,” said Tim Blum.
The card players are Jeff Pilgrim of Sioux City and Akron actors: Mark Philips, Craig Simonsen, and Bob Watson. For Simonsen and Watson this is their debut in an Opera House play. The cast also includes two English gals aka Retta Anderson and Dodie Hook.
“It’s a helluva good show,” said Tim Blum, who has not only acted in half a dozen plays on the Akron Opera House stage but he’s done some directing, too. So has his son.
“It’s really funny,” he said. “This play is a stand-alone play all by itself. You don’t have to think back to the TV show or anything else like that.”
“It’s a very funny play, well-written,” said Tim Blum. “It has great parts and goes from beginning to end without any gaps where you’re left wondering what happened. It makes sense all the way through.”
Because of the unique seating arrangement, there are no really bad seats — but front row seats are limited. Therefore, call 568-2614 to get tickets and reserve your seats soon.
The performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 24, 25, 31, and Feb. 1 along with a 2:00 p.m. matinee Sunday, Feb. 2.