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"The Odd Couple" – Council for Arts bringing dinner theater back to Atmore

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP
Advance Managing Editor
The antics of Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison will be brought back to life once again this weekend in Atmore as the Greater Escambia Council for the Arts will present Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" as part of a dinner theater.
Simon's long-running Broadway comedy focuses on the lives of two divorced men who find themselves sharing an apartment. The two central characters are friends who play regular poker games together along with several other characters. Felix is on the verge of suicide because his marriage has ended. To help his friend, Oscar invites Felix to move in with him. It doesn't take long for the two to realize they are in for a rough living situation as Felix is a compulsive cleaner and very organized while Oscar can only be described as a slob.
The success of the play spun into a movie by the same title and gave life to one of Hollywood's great comedy teams as Walter Matthau played Oscar and Jack Lemmon as Felix. Matthau had also played the role of Oscar in the stage version.
In the late 60s, Simon's work became even more popular as it was the basis for a television show with the two lead characters being played by Jack Klugman, who had played Oscar on the Broadway version after Matthau's departure, and Tony Randall as Felix.
The role of Felix will be played by Phil Johnson, president of the Council for the Arts, while Jerry Janes, vice-president and director of the play, will be Oscar. Both men said they had been waiting for the right opportunity to bring "The Odd Couple" to Atmore.
Presenting "The Odd Couple" is just one of the goals that will be achieved when the group takes the stage this weekend. While it marks the first major undertaking of the new Council for the Arts, it will also be the first dinner theater held in Atmore since 1986 when another Neil Simon play, "Star Spangled Girl," was performed.
The cast was chosen through try-outs about six weeks ago. Since then they have been working to perfect their lines – or one-liners.
The cast is made up of Felix's and Oscar's poker buddies and their female neighbors. Speed, played by Leo Hursh; Roy, an accountant, will be played by Bob Reach; Vinnie, a slow-witted card shark, will be played by Ellis Beachy and David Mills will play Murray, a retired police officer. The group of men meets every week for poker and it is at one of their games that the play begins.
Darlene Mills will be playing the role of Gwendolyn, a widower, and Mirinda Dawe will be the divorced Cece who share an apartment in Oscar's building. They ultimately help to resolve the conflict between Oscar and Felix by offering him another place to stay.
While the show remains true to Simon's play, the Council for the Arts did choose to change some of the lines to make it more family-friendly.
They also decided to do away with the New York accents by changing the setting to Mobile.
Janes, along with his father, Dewey Janes, has done much of the set work. Janes said he decided to build his set from scratch to better fit the image of a bachelor pad.'
The Council for the Arts is hoping to raise its profile through the dinner theater and to raise money for other upcoming events such as their summer performance of "Annie" which will begin auditioning in June.
The play will be presented at The Wisteria on Main Street, Atmore on Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. The cost is $19 per person or $15 for members of the Council for the Arts. The performance will begin shortly after dinner.
The dinner theater is available through RSVP only and reservations should be made within 24 hours of the performance. Reservations can be obtained by calling PS Music at 368-5566.
The play will be taken on the road later in the spring as performances are planned in Brewton and Monroeville.
The Greater Escambia Council for the Arts represents members from Escambia County, Ala., North Escambia County, Fla. and North Baldwin County. Membership fees are $25 per year for an individual or $40 a year for a family.