Rick Robinson and Stephen Kline play Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar in “The Odd Couple” on stage at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre through Sept. 6, 2020. In Neil Simon’s hilarious comedy, mayhem ensues when two friends with opposite personalities move in together. I visited with Robinson and Kline on Zoom.
EH: What’s the significance of laughter?
RR: It is good medicine. I think it’s something that’s missing during this difficult, heavy, weighty time. It’s good for your soul and good for your health.
EH: What’s the chemistry between Felix and Oscar?
RR: It’s sort of a bro-mantic comedy. There’s tumult. And the chemistry between the two characters is as important as in a romantic comedy.
SK: What’s unique about the two men is that they have gone through the same experience of separation, but they have responded in two completely different directions. The Yin and Yang is what helps them help each other with what they’ve been through.
EH: Are there tricks of the trade in comedy?
RR: Comedy is an egg. It’s delicate. If you squeeze it too tight, it will break. Moments have to be carefully crafted, but if you go too far in one direction, if you squeeze it too hard, it breaks, and it’s not funny. No one quite understands the perfect science behind comedy. When a moment is funny, the best comedians learn to ride the dragon.
My job in the show is the straight man. The slow take, the slow burn of anger: When the audience is waiting for the character to erupt, they sit on the edge of their seats, and when he finally does, they laugh.
In the bones of every good comedy is a good drama. You have to have conflict; you have to have real human beings. Neil Simon is a master of that. Nut also, he injects such crystal clear well-paced writing. The stakes are so high, that in addition to being a good satisfying drama, it’s very funny. The hallmark of all these classic comedies is that they start with a good well-structured dramatic story.
SK: I underestimated the comedy, not realizing the meat on the bone. There is some real tragedy in there, and there are some life lessons.
RR: I feel that the dramatic story offers something in addition to the laughter. It speaks to all people who are adults and have been in relationships. Whether those relationships are successful, or whether it’s something you’ve been through. This is a cautionary tale of two guys who didn’t treat their relationships, perhaps as well as they should, and there’s a bit of catharsis on how they survive it.
SK: These two men are dealing, in a way, with their new normal. And what’s amazing about the timing of this play, is that our world is obviously dealing with a new normal.
It’s a conflict because you are rooting for these two guys to stay together; but you also know that they are driving you and each other nuts.
It’s a chance to not only think about how to move on with the new normal, how to survive, but also to have that release. The confidence of knowing you can go to the Cabaret, think, but also laugh.