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CRT gets messy with 'Odd Couple'

Take one messy, cigar-smoking sportswriter, one obsessive clean freak, four poker players and two giggling sisters, and you have Neil Simon's 'The Odd Couple.'

This classic comedy opens Clackamas Repertory Theatre's eighth season on Friday, June 29, at Clackamas Community College.

Director David Smith-English, who is CRT's artistic director, chose the play because it is his favorite Neil Simon show, and he thinks the script, first produced in 1965, is still vitally relevant today.

'It really holds up; it is talking about relationships,' Smith-English said. 'There is dialogue that everybody has said, and because it is Neil Simon, there is a joke a minute.'

Cast in the lead roles of Oscar and Felix, are actors Tim True and Michael O'Connell, real-life best friends who are co-founders of Portland's Third Rail Repertory Theatre.

'They are perfect in these roles; they redefine these roles and make them fresh and brand new. It is so amazing the way they play off each other in a creative manner. As actors, they see and hear everything around them and respond to it - it is such a joy to work with them,' Smith-English said.

The plot revolves around Oscar, a sportswriter, and Felix, a depressed clean-freak, who try to live together after their wives have left them. Mix in four poker-playing friends, and an attractive pair of sisters who have moved in upstairs, and hilarity ensues.

Oscar the slob

Oscar is an enjoyer of life on his own terms, True said, adding that the character is 'hedonistic, exists on a visceral level and likes food, drink, people and the company of women, at the expense of keeping order in his house, his life and in his relationships.'

He sees all those characteristics in himself, he said, but he likes to think he's aware of it and addresses it. Although, he admitted, 'it is kind of fun to backslide.'

When he was initially offered the part, Felix had not been cast, so he asked Smith- English to consider O'Connell for the role.

'They were really for it, and that made me excited. Mike and I are best friends, so we have a shorthand way to work together,' he said.

Working with CRT for the first time has been 'extraordinary,' True said, noting that the company supplied crucial props, costume pieces and furniture at a much earlier stage than he was accustomed to.

'From day one we had live food props; kudos to props mistress Shelly Mortimer and David for creating this creative culture where you get everything ahead of time. It makes a big difference to have actual things and practical sound cues, so we can respond to that in truthful way,' he said.

True is a core member of Third Rail, and has appeared in a host of regional and local theater productions. He also has film and TV credits.

Felix (or Tony Randall)

Felix 'enters the play in a state of chaos, and leaves a changed man,' O'Connell said.

'He's just been divorced, and when you like order as much as he does, he is devastated,' he added.

In modern terms, Felix would probably be diagnosed with OCD, O'Connell said, noting that his character is also a worrier who has been well brought up to respect politeness and manners.

'I grew up watching the TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, so they are in the back of my head,' O'Connell said, noting that he has spent some time trying to figure out what he can bring to the role.

'I've fallen in love with Felix. He has these slow burn moments and a range of emotions he goes through - it's a roller coaster ride,' O'Connell said.

He's enjoying the experience of being in 'The Odd Couple,' he said, because as another Third Rail core member, he and the company have spent a lot of time doing new plays that are a 'little out there. Coming back to a well-made play is a delight. And this is a famous role, so that is always a great challenge.'

He also appreciates what CRT offers actors and added, 'This is a family and they are extremely gracious to bring us into the fold.'

O'Connell has also amassed a number of local and regional theater credits and is an adjunct professor at Portland State University and teaches for Portland Center Stage's Visions and Voices program.

'The Odd Couple'

Clackamas Repertory Theatre presents Neil Simon's classic comedy 'The Odd Couple,' opening Friday, June 29, at 7:30 p.m. The play runs through July 22.

CRT performances take place Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. All performances are in the Osterman Theatre at Clackamas Community College.

Season tickets and single tickets may be purchased at clackamasrep.org or by calling 503-594-6047.

For more information, contact CRT managing director Cyndy Smith-English at 503-594-3915.'The Odd Couple' also features CRT favorites Ernie Casciato, Michael Mitchell, Annie Rimmer and Jayne Stevens, and Oregon City High School technical theater director Mark Schwahn.

CRT continues its season in August with 'Cabaret' and concludes with a new comedy, 'End Days,' in late September.

For more information about

Third Rail Repertory Theatre, visit thirdrailrep.org.