Current productions at two Dallas theater companies cast the spotlight on male bonds, exploring the good, the bad and the awkward. Dallas Theater Center plays it safe with the classic Neil Simon comedy The Odd Couple, while the diamond-in-the-rough company Upstart Productions premieres Apartment Plays, two one-act plays by local director and playwright Bruce Coleman.
Oscar and Felix have one of the most ubiquitous stage bromances of all time. The warm-and-fuzzy story about two recently divorced men who move in together and strike up a push-me, pull-you relationship remains one of the most highly produced works of contemporary theater nearly 50 years after its debut.
Director Kevin Moriarty gives the piece a quick-witted treatment, conducting the actors into comedic unison. Not a single moment on stage is wasted. J. Anthony Crane as the masculine, slobby Oscar and Michael Mastro as the OCD, effeminate Felix form a spirited juxtaposition, but the characters to watch are in the supporting cast.
In The Odd Couple, J. Anthony Crane and Michael Mastro form a spirited juxtaposition. But the characters to watch are in the supporting cast.
The title character’s poker buddies — played here by Brierley Resident Acting Company members Hassan El-Amin, Chamblee Ferguson and Lee Trull — have enough dynamism to carry the entire show. In the play’s first act, these actors deliver more punch lines than allows an average person to catch a breath, and the entertainment continues for the entire two hours and 15 minutes. Tiffany Hobbs and Mia Antoinette Crowe, who come over for a double date with the boys, also deserve praise.
Like most Simon plays, The Odd Couple caps off an entertaining night at the theater with a sincere message about humanity. When Oscar throws out Felix, there is a moment in which he seems to understand the value of their human connection — nothing sappy, but a quiet salute to the friendship.
In the first installment of his Apartment Plays, Coleman attempts a similar moment of catharsis. In A Conversation with a (Potentially) Naked Man, Coleman contemplates a friendship between a gay artist and his straight, but dashingly handsome, nude subject. Although the dialogue is littered with touching moments of vulnerability, it’s overwhelmingly awkward to sit through.
Actors Aaron Roberts and Marcus Stimac work through the stilted language valiantly, but they are directed at a meandering pace. There is also an inappropriate amount of physical distance between them for such an intimate space.
By far the stronger piece of the evening, Larry Kramer Hates Me playfully explores gay relationships with a Dickensian twist. Actors Angel Velasco and Gregg Gerardi are at the center of this story of past relationships and social progress. Two weeks into a new relationship, ex-boyfriends begin literally popping up behind couches, like Scrooge’s “undigested bit of beef.”
While more ex-boyfriends pop out of back rooms and closets, the most compelling character to show up on the scene is LGBT rights activist Larry Kramer (a smart performance by Rick Espaillat). His well-crafted character is given the most insightful monologue of the night, calling attention to the need for ever-more progress on the issues of civil rights.
The night of plays ends with a beautiful moment between Gerardi and Velasco, where they dream of the life they will share. Although the dialogue in Coleman's plays lacks the polish and wit of Simon's Odd Couple, the underlying message bears as much weight. Both nights of theater explore the importance of friendships, human connection and learning to live with one another.