TBT scores with first Great American Classic

It all starts out on an appropriately unkempt set with clothes strewn everywhere and blinds, pictures and accessories askew. Enter four long-time pals ready to play their weekly game of poker gathered round the table of their slob-like friend, Oscar Madison.

That’s what happens before a fifth friend, neurotic Felix Unger, moves in after his marriage falls apart. He then proceeds to drive the recently divorced Oscar crazy, thereby making them the proverbial “odd couple.”

If this premise sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because Thunder Bay Theatre chose this classic Neil Simon comedy as its first installment in a five-year Great American Play Project. The intent of the project is to expose audiences once each year to a classic drama or comedy like “The Odd Couple.”

The extremely fun show opened last week and continues for two more weeks. TBT brought in guest director Anthony Guest, a seasoned actor and director as well as an associate professor of theater at Oakland University. Guest gave it a pleasing sixties vibe, but with a contemporary twist in terms of cast selection.

From top to bottom, the cast is strong, including newcomer Christopher Berghoff as the sarcastic Oscar and returnee Corey C. Moore as Felix. They do the dance of annoying one another as much as possible, which lies at the heart of the humor.

Caleb Richards, Jake Lanier, Farrell Tatum and Zach Lusk play their long-time friends and poker buddies. While they all tend to grouse at one another, underneath they genuinely care, especially about the possibly suicidal Felix.

You can’t forget the Pigeon sisters either. They’re the upstairs neighbors Oscar hopes to cozy up to, even if things don’t go anything at all like he planned. The sisters dress in coordinated outfits and simultaneously make all the same movements, which is compounded even further by the fact that two real life twins – Grace and Rebecca Taylor – play these on stage sisters to perfection.

As director, Guest keeps a sharp pace even with two intermissions in the show as written by Neil Simon. You get so caught up in what’s happening on stage that it comes as a surprise to realize 45 minutes have quickly passed and it’s time for one of those breaks. When you stop to think about it too, there are some life observations packaged into the play as well – observations about being there for friends, about the realities of divorce and about what it might take to save important friendships.

Jack Golden gets lots of credit once again for the set design. So do Sarah Lake-Rayburn as the costume designer, Jonah Schnell as the lighting designer and Colin Marshall as the sound designer. It all works together wonderfully for anyone who needs some classic comic relief from the seemingly endless winter. TBT’s “The Odd Couple” will temporary take your mind off the weather and give you more than a few good laughs in the process.

Remaining performances are April 12-15 and April 19-22 with show times at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. TBT also provides an opportunity to get to know the performers at one of its signature Late Night Cabarets set for 10 p.m. at the John A. Lau Saloon, following this Friday’s performance.

For reservations, call the box office at 354-2267 or order tickets online at www.thunderbaytheatre.com.