Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

An Odd Couple of Weeks

(We have discovered that Facebook censors our posts for having offensive images when we post no pictures, so here, a photo-filled extravaganza.) 

Darwin and I have taken turns over the years performing in various community theater productions, but we haven't been in a show together for years. However, for the past two months we've been in rehearsals for The Odd Couple, playing (respectively) Roy the poker-playing accountant, and Gwendolyn Pigeon, the elder of the coo-coo Pigeon sisters. One day we may actually have lines together, but it was fun to be at rehearsals together, especially in a small-cast show like this where everyone is an old hand and can build an instant ensemble. We went up last weekend, and it was glorious.

It took a while to fill out the cast -- the director had to pull all the strings to get eight people who could all perform on the same weekend (and this included me texting Darwin from auditions, while he was at his grandmother's funeral, to say, "I know you weren't going to try out for this one, but I've volunteered you and you're already cast.") Our first read-through involved my reading both Pigeon sisters, the director reading one open role, and our our-of-town guest reading another (because you don't just come to our house and not do something theatrical). Fortunately, our Oscar and Felix are two of the finest amateur actors west of Broadway, who've played together in several shows and have the finest chemistry, and who were already almost off-book at first rehearsal. (Unlike me, who had never seen or read The Odd Couple before the read-through.)

This is what I love about community theater. We are blessed locally with immense talent, people who are living quiet lives as parents, teachers, lawyers, judges, engineers, pricing directors, doing corporate or hands-on work, even stay-at-home mothers homeschooling seven kids. None of us are professional actors (though that's the only thing I myself am professionally qualified to do). We act because we love it, and because we love the camaraderie, and because the people in our small town deserve high-quality theater as much as the people in Columbus or New York. 

And this was high-quality theater. For my money, our Felix Ungar was funnier and more nuanced than any other interpreter of the role, including Jack Lemmon and Matthew Broderick. Our set may not have been built with a Broadway budget or resources, but it was pretty convincing as a sloppy eight-room apartment in NYC. I'm so proud of my 13yo son, who, alone in the balcony each night with not much more than two spotlights, kept refining the lighting scheme each night. I was worried that we were going to crash at some point, but each performance kept getting funnier and more focused. 

For the longest time we didn't have a theater to perform in, or even a church sanctuary or someone's basement. But one of our cast members who can pull strings got us into the empty theater in what used to be the public high school, then the middle school, and now the school administrative offices. It's a huge old auditorium, nowhere near state of the art and with no back stage, but absolutely perfect for a show set in a ratty apartment with one entrance. During our strike, I brought in my very own vacuum cleaner to deal with the accumulation of crushed potato chips and shredded newspaper that Oscar scattered to the wings each performance. "I'm pretty sure," I told some of the guys, "that this stage hasn't been vacuumed since the Obama administration."

"Try Carter," said one.

"I would have said Ford," said the other.

So no one can say we didn't leave the place cleaner than we found it.

Darwin didn't want to shave his beard despite the rather counter-cultural connotations in a 1968 setting, so he developed the conceit that he was a single Jewish guy who lived with his mother, and wore a yarmulke. Observe: Roy the accountant declines to try the BLT that some of the other guys are raving over. (There was discussion of whether an observant Jew would be playing poker on Friday night, but several cast members attested to knowing yarmulke-wearing Jews who would indeed be of the Friday night poker-playing persuasion.) I'd been planning to wear a staid vintage frock I found at a costume shop, but we had a last-minute substitution for the other Pigeon sister due to COVID, and in the ensuing alterations to the style and chemistry, I ended up in a red cocktail dress which I'd last worn to a wedding in 2015.

Let's talk stage hair and makeup. The above pictures were taken at dress rehearsal, when we were still figuring out costume changes and hair stuff. (I'd been planning to try for that straight-haired late 60s hair smoothed in front of the face and bouffant in back, like my mom's high school picture, but even with a flat iron and a $17 can of hair spray I couldn't get my my hair to hold smooth and non-frizzy.) 

Here we have: full coverage cream-to-powder foundation all over the face; contour on forehead, sides of nose, under cheeks, and under chin; three shades of blush; highlighting on nose, forehead, chin; brown eye shadow applied with a thin brush under eye sockets (NEVER under the lash line like they tell you, or your eyes will look small and insane) and black eye shadow as lid liner; gray shadow for definition on outside of eye, several coats of mascara, and matte red lipstick. This is a million times too much work and too heavy for street wear, but if you want your face to be seen on stage, it's how you have to go.

I couldn't get my hair to bouff for love or money, so I washed it each night and slept on it wet, to get some bizarrely scupltural curls, then I hairsprayed the mess out of it and (against every nerve fiber in my body) brushed it out. Then I rolled the front part under in sections and pinned them for volume. Then I once again aerosoled my head and brushed up the back hair from underneath. Hair was stupid in the 60s and I for one am happy to live in the more permissive 21st century, with our enlightened tolerance for curly hair.

I also l have a significant amount of not just gray, but white hair, far more than is indicated for character described as "that English Betty Boop" and in the stage directions as "early 30s". This is my natural gray distribution, not even accounting for the snowy streaks developing at my temples:

I don't have the desire to grow out a dye job, but one can buy colored hair spray that, at the distance of a stage performance, will provide convincing enough coverage. Brown/Black was a bit startling to my sensibilities:

But light brown looked natural enough. (Compare at temples for unadulterated hair.)

I would in no wise recommend this for everyday use, as it felt weird and made my head itch, but one must suffer for one's art.

One can, of course, count Darwin's gray hairs on less than ten fingers, and somehow gray hair makes men look distinguished and not washed out. 

So! Now we're in a week of recovery, made simultaneously easier and more tedious by the little boys developing Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease on Monday, which meant (after the discovery that older people can also get the highly contagious HFM imperceptibly) that our entire week of plans and classes was canceled. You'd think this would lead to a week of household productivity, but having children in a feverish malaise and then afflicted with copious pustules around noses already afflicted with seasonal allergies has been strangely unrelaxing. Also, just hearing "Hand, Foot, and Mouth" has the same pyschological effect as hearing "Lice" or "Pinkeye": one is pursued by the phantom itch on palms and feet. By next week the boys' faces should be presentable and we shall cease to be a festering hothouse of contagion. I have, however, finally put away all the costume bits, the makeup, the foam wedges and cotton balls and cleansing wipes, the scripts and the props, so bit by bit, life is becoming less dramatic and less Odd Couple-ly.


Brandon said...

I like the Jewish-guy-who-lives-with-mom idea for Roy; he's the sort of character who definitely needs some extra filling-out to go beyond just 'guy contributing to dialogue sometimes'. And there is actually a big New York Jewish tradition of poker-playing; the old joke when national poker tournaments were getting started was that they always came down to the Jews versus the Texans. (I got that from, I think, a profile I once read of a professional poker-player who learned to play poker by watching his mother play in a lady's group from the synagogue; he complained that the national organization occasionally scheduled major tournaments during Passover -- but he played, anyway.) I think the workarounds are often what make amateur theatricals best -- it's the splendid creativity that comes from trying to do a lot with a little, which often takes you in new directions very different from what you would get if you could just impose your vision directly.

I always confuse hand, foot, and mouth disease with hoof and mouth disease, so after a moment's confusion sorted itself out, I was mildly relieved.

mandamum said...


We did both Odd Couples when I was in high school (to make sure there were roles fore more girls, the majority of the drama-interested), and I was one of the side characters (Vera) in the women's version.

MrsDarwin said...


Art imitating life! We didn't know that about the Jewish poker playing scene. Our director is serious about facial hair, hats, and shoes being period, and so one day Darwin said to me, "You know what I'm going to do if he asks me to shave?"

"What?" I said.

"Buy a yarmulke."

And I fell over laughing, and the kids came in and didn't understand why it was so funny.

But from that point the character started to build itself.

It is very true that constrained circumstances force creativity in a way that a show full of softball choices could never do. Every night I had a different interpretation of my response to Felix showing me a photo of his wife, because every night the actor had a different oddball picture he was thrusting under my nose. My response was, "Oh, she's pretty. Isn't she pretty, Cecily?", and it came out differently depending on whether I was looking at Mrs. Doubtfire, Jabba the Hut, Divine, Ernest Borgnine, or Lily Munster. The first time he did it (in dress rehearsal, fortunately), I broke on stage and couldn't get it together for several lines. (That was actually because of the hideous photo of what were supposed to be his children.) I quickly learned to flip the photo upside down if I thought I was going to crack, or quickly hand it off to Cecily, who was better at keeping a straight face than I was.

"Hoof and mouth disease" -- people joke about having "foot in mouth" disease, but getting your hoof in there would truly be a feat!

MrsDarwin said...


Without having seen it, we were speculating on how the women's Odd Couple must have a somewhat different dynamic, and it seems like the characters must have to be slightly older, or at least further along in life than the men, or else how would you deal with the presence of young children? My guess was that the kids must be grown and at least one husband has abandoned his wife for a younger woman. You'll have to tell me if I'm right.

mandamum said...

That is a great question - I don't remember! Most of the show is lost to the mists of time. I suspect children just didn't come into it at all. And the women play Trivial Pursuit - they mention that they tried poker at first, but just really didn't enjoy it. :-D I had to google the characters to remember that I was Vera. But I know there was definitely a different dynamic in the two women inviting down brothers Manolo and Jesus for dinner rather than the Pidgeon Sisters. And doing the two at the same time made it interesting to compare Neil Simon's writing of men's voices and characters vs women's.

I love the idea of having different silly pictures thrust at you :-) We did The Night of January 16th one year in high school, and it was very interesting having different juries (from the audience) each night, with a different possible outcome. I had to swear the witnesses in - they came up as though from the audience too - and one night early on one of the ditzy characters held up her left hand by accident. I repeated my "RIGHT hand" and she switched. Everyone laughed, and it was a new addition to our show from there.

I hope you're healing up nicely and not being driven crazy. Last month, we had to cut short a visit to my family in the next state over when it became clear that the heavy wildfire smoke was not the (only) cause of our newly developed coughs. So we came straight home and, after the test came back neg for both covid and flu, spent a week stuck inside isolating anyway, feeling both draggy sick and also grumpy about being stuck home. So much for our first attempt to take a vacation post-Mar2020. Hey, at least foot-n-mouth waited until you'd struck your show!

John Farrell said...

"I'm telling ya that thing could kill us--they'll find us here in the morning with our tongues on the floor!"

John Farrell said...

Any chance you two could pull off a stage version of A New Leaf-- Brendan as Henry and Cat as Henrietta....?

Darwin said...


Yeah, that was one of my fun lines to deliver. Along with, "What am I gonna do? I'm gonna get in a cab and go to Central Park. If I don't get some fresh air, you're going to have yourself a dead accountant."

Emily J. said...

So fun that you guys did this together! I'm sure it was a huge hit. With our kids heading out the doors right and left, we're going to have to find some new hobbies when we are empty nesters - although going to watch local theater is much more likely for us than acting in it.