‘Odd Couple’ Opens Memorial Weekend

Lou Bacher & Vic Sirkin practice their lines

Although Neil Simon created “The Odd Couple” 45 years ago, its messages are still prevalent today. With his incredible insight on relationships and friendships, Simon makes us laugh at ourselves.

“All of our lines are still timely and universal,” said Lou Bacher, a local antique dealer, who plays Felix Unger. “Nothing ever changes.”

It showcases the lives of two mismatched roommates, who are recently separated from their wives. Felix Unger, a news writer, is a hypochondriac and “neat freak,” while Oscar Madison, a sports writer, is a slob. “The Odd Couple” opened in 1965 on Broadway, ran 988 successful shows, and earned two Tony Awards.

It was also a popular TV sitcom, that ran from 1970-1975. It starred Tony Randall as Unger and Jack Klugman as Madison. Klugman was a natural for the show, because he replaced Matthau in the Broadway play.

In the TV series, Oscar Madison personifies a slob:

Felix: “What are you doing?”

Oscar: “Sterilizing the wound.”

Felix: “With beer?”

Oscar: “It’s got alcohol in it.”

Bacher and Vic Sirkin, a real estate agent, have the same funny camaraderie in Idyllwild’s version of “The Odd Couple,” a fundraiser for the Help Center Memorial Day Weekend.

“We hope to raise $9,000,” said Bacher, who serves on its board.

Since the recession hit, the Help Center’s caseload has nearly doubled. It now serves 650 people. Although they receive grants and donations, it’s not enough to meet the new demand.

“People who wouldn’t normally come to us are asking for help now,” Bacher said.

“When you think of a town of 3,500 people, that’s nearly 20 percent of the community that’s willing to admit that they need help,” Sirkin said.

Tickets are $30, which includes dinner and the show at Town Hall. Sysco Food Service, will donate the food for the dinner. Sirkin said they’ve raised about $2,000 so far. Posters all over town are help getting the word out.

For the past several weeks, the two friends have been practicing their 400 odd lines.

“Our wives are jealous of the time we spend rehearsing together,” Vic Sirkin said. “We want to be funny, but not make fools of ourselves.”

Sirkin and Bacher have to memorize 400 lines

Much of the practice time is spent at Cafe Aroma, where many of the actors are from. Owner/Manager Frank Ferro is a poker player, and Kathy Halkin, whose husband, Hubert, co-owns Cafe Aroma, plays one of the girls from upstairs. Conor O’Farrell,who was once a waiter at Cafe Aroma, is the director.

Other locals in the play include: Pete Capparelli, a real estate agent, Phil Drell, Jim Crandall from the Idyllwild Town Crier newspaper and Sandii Castleberry, a musician.

“None of us have had any theater experience, except for Conor,” said Sirkin. “He’s got 30 years of acting experience, and he’s stuck directing us.”

O’Farrell’s plan is to host theater productions to help benefit different community or charity groups in Idyllwild. The Help Center is the first recipient.

“The Help Center donated all of the furniture and props for the play,” Bacher added. “After the show, everything’s for sale, including the couch, lamps, phone, whatever. We just don’t want to haul it all back.”

At 71, this is Bacher's first acting gig

Bacher said that he’s not really a neat freak, like his character, Felix Unger. “Actually, Vic, who plays the slob Oscar Madison, is the neat freak, even though he doesn’t look like it.”

When Walter Matthau and Art Carney played “The Odd Couple” for years on Broadway, they would often change roles, Bacher said.

“They knew each other’s lines so well, it was easy,” he said. “It also brought new life to their roles.”

Bacher and Sirkin exchange insults, and offer a couple of impromptu lines to show they can act.

“You didn’t say the word that you were supposed to,” Sirkin said.

“Yes, I did,” said Bacher.

“Look at your script,” Sirkin said. And he was right.

“Guess we have to practice a little bit more,” Bacher said, with a sigh.

Both men talked about the camaraderie that develops when spending so much time working on the play together. However, every time they mess up a line, O’Farrell has them put money in a pot. Neither man would say how much money is in the pot so far.

“We have a bond now, you know, affection for each other,” Bacher said.

“Don’t say, ‘affection,'”Sirkin warned, “we’re men.”

Obviously, the chemistry is there.

“The Odd Couple” will run Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 28-30, Memorial Day Weekend at the Idyllwild Town Hall. Tickets are $30 each, which includes the show and dinner. All proceeds go to benefit the Idyllwild Help Center. Buy tickets at the Silver Pines Lodge (next to Town Hall), or call Lou Bacher at (760) 533-6692.

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