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Clarence High School’s Drama Club puts an intimate spin on classic Neil Simon comedy

When Clarence High School’s Drama Club performs Neil Simon’s "The Odd Couple" tonight, tomorrow and Saturday, it will be a unique experience for the actors and audience alike.

This production is a revitalization of the 1965 Broadway play that later was revived and transformed into a 1968 film and hit television series from the early to mid-1970s.

The play tells the story of Felix Ungar, a neat freak news reporter who is thrown out by his wife and moves in with his friend, Oscar Madison, a disheveled sportswriter. The two are polar opposites of each other in nearly every aspect.

When Oscar throws Felix out after a brief period of time, he realizes that he has a positive effect on him and his life.

Clarence High School’s production will provide an intimate experience for audience and actors alike, as the audience sits on stage with the actors throughout the performance.

"The back wall of the set goes against the back wall of the stage, and there are 120 chairs set up around the other three sides of the stage," says Lou Vitello, a music teacher at Clarence High School and the director of the production. "It’s a much more intimate setting, and it gives a theater-in-the-round feel."

This is not the first time Clarence High School has done a play with this seating approach. In fact, it is their third show done in this way.

"People seem to like it a lot," says Vitello, who originated the idea of seating the audience on stage. "You’re really close to the actors on the stage and it makes the show come across better."

This innovative approach to performing a show like "The Odd Couple" brings many challenges to the actors, as you might imagine.

"As an actor, it makes you cope and adapt to different techniques," says Dan Wilde, a senior at Clarence High School who plays the part of Speed. "You can’t just act to the audience. You have to act to three sides of the audience, which definitely makes you conscious of everything you do."

"It definitely changes how you play your role because it changes how you interact with other characters," says Aneris Rivera-Wagner, a senior who plays Murray in the show.

"There’s lots to be wary of," adds Justin McMullen, a junior who plays the role of Oscar Madison. "You can’t make your movement look awkward because you’re playing to three sides of the audience so it has to look very fluid and authentic."

The only two female characters of the cast, junior Maddy Bedenko and sophomore Sophia Sorrentino, have similar views on the approach. Bedenko, who plays Gwendolyn Pigeon, says it is very hard to make eye contact with anyone in the audience.

"It takes lots of concentration," she says.

"The audience is so close to the stage!" adds Sorrentino, who plays the role of Cecily Pigeon.

However, as many of the actors would agree, Vitello says that the pros of this approach far outweigh the cons.

He notes, "Everything is going to be seen, so everything wrong with a costume or a set piece will be seen. The nerves for the actors are higher, but the experience of it and performing it like this definitely outweigh the cons."

The cast of the show itself consists of only eight actors, but many other students have gotten involved with the show in other ways to give the show its unique essence.

Vitello stressed the importance of filling the seats, as the cast and crew have worked diligently to create a great production.

"It’s going to be a really entertaining production. The comic aspect is coming along really well, and to see a high school group do a classic Neil Simon dramatic production is really great," says Vitello.

"The Odd Couple" will be performed today, Friday and Saturday at Clarence High School, 9625 Main St. Each show will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling (716) 407-9050 and are also available at the door. More information can also be found on the Clarence Schools website, www.clarenceschools.org.

Alex Renzoni is a freshman at Clarence High School.

 

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