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Odd Couple makes nice fit onstage
Georgia Mountain Players bring Neil Simon play to life at Mountains Center
The Georgia Mountain Players present Neil Simon’s "The Odd Couple." From the left are Bill Maine, John Weeks, Josh Thompson, Peggy Strickland, Michael Martin and Jene Robocker.

Poor Felix and Oscar. Their relationship was doomed from the start.

Ousted by their wives and left to their own devices, neatnick Felix moves in with slob Oscar. And they’re constantly at each other’s throats.

Such is the basic story of "The Odd Couple," the Neil Simon play that comes to life this weekend at the Georgia Mountains Center. Presented by the Georgia Mountain Players, the story is essentially what "Odd Couple" fans have known over the years, with slight updating, such as the addition of cellphones.

The original 1968 Broadway production — and later the TV series — starred Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as the mismatched friends. The script was updated in 1998, but Michael Martin, one of the original members of the Mountain Players who will play Felix, said this production still recalls its classic roots.

"Oscar is a slob, filthy. He doesnt’ do anything. Felix is the neatnick — everything’s gotta be just so with him," Martin said. "That’s why they’re the odd couple."

Josh Thompson, who plays Oscar, has been in the Mountain Players for about eight years. He has known Martin for many more years through their church, however, and said over time he’s realized his love of acting.

"I kinda just started when I was real young, and as I kept growing up it was just something I really enjoyed doing," Thompson said. They basically needed someone who was my age a couple of years ago for a part and they asked me if I would do it, and from then on I just kept doing it."

At one point in the play, Oscar decides he wants to start dating again, but Felix isn’t sure he’s ready yet. But when Oscar is fixed up with two women from their apartment building, Martin said, the date becomes a mess when the ladies feel bad for Felix, who still hasn’t gotten over his wife.

"It’s a disaster — Felix breaks down about his wife and of course the girls are sympathetic to him," Martin said, adding that he’s had to add some nervous tics to his repertoire.

"They’re not mine — they’re Felix’s," Martin said. "I try to do that, like, nervous habits. Especially with the girls because my divorce is not final and I’m not ready for it."

Thompson added that Oscar’s habits are something that just started happening the more he got into his character.

"Once you’re playing the character you just start doing things without really realizing it," he said. "For example, there’s a scene where we invite people over to dinner. It’s a nice dinner, there’s a nice tablecloth and china on the table, and I’m lounging all over the table with my arms.

"It’s things like that that just kind of help reinforce the character. I didn’t really think about it, it just kind of happened."

Thompson added that the play is something that can appeal to multiple generations. And with the updates to the script, it’s the classic "Odd Couple" story, with some twists.

"If they’ve seen the movie or seen the TV series, it’s not exactly the same," he said. "They’ll definitely see parts of those inside our production, but it’s really just the story of two guys who are friends who kind of separate, but they’re still friends."