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Veterans of Fort Wayne Theater make up The Odd Couple
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
The play The Odd Couple needs little introduction — author Neil Simon is hardly a stranger to success, commercial or artistic, and The Odd Couple is easily his most popular work, spawning a hit film and TV show, plus countless spin-offs, take-offs, and revivals.
And in the Arena Dinner Theater’s production of the much-loved play, which begins its three-weekend run on February 29, the cast needs little introduction either. Director Brad Beauchamp thought it might be interesting to give a nod to some of the veterans of the Fort Wayne stage, casting Wayne Schaltenbrand as slovenly Oscar and Larry Wardlaw as neatnik Felix respectively. “It’s not really typecasting… but it is,” Beauchamp says.
Schaltenbrand and Wardlaw go way back; both were on the original board of the Arena Theater in 1974 after the Fort Wayne Theater Workshop disbanded due to cuts in the parks board budget. “Larry directed me in my first show in Fort Wayne, which was How To Succeed In Business, I think it was ’73,” says Schaltenbrand, who estimates he’s been involved in over a hundred theater productions in the area. “And I directed him in the first show I ever directed, Any Wednesday.”
But as Beauchamp says, “As long as the two of them have worked on the stage, and as many plays, shows, theaters that they’ve worked in, the two of them have never appeared together on stage.”
“I may be discovering the reason for that during rehearsal,” he adds.
He’s joking. Or he says he’s joking. For their part, Schaltenbrand and Wardlaw say they’ve been friends for a long time and share a professional respect. But… well, there may be something more behind that on stage animosity than just good acting chops. “Wayne fits Oscar to a ‘tee,’ and I guess I have to admit I fit Felix pretty well as far as being ‘nitsy’” says Wardlaw, who is returning to the stage after 10 years spent mostly serving as a director on productions. “We kind of have this natural contrast.” Wardlaw says some of the conflict may come from the typical clash between actors and directors. “I know I drive him crazy because I’m always picking at him, and I know he drives me crazy because I never know what he’s going to do.”
“I was wondering whether we would kill each other, but we seem to be getting along pretty well,” jokes Schaltenbrand. “My character is the slob, and he’s Felix, who is the fastidious one. Basically, if you went to our houses, you’d see Brad really typecast us.”
Actually, Wardlaw and Schaltenbrand aren’t the only stage veterans in this production of The Odd Couple. The cast has been in a lot of area theater. “We have a very seasoned cast,” Wardlaw laughs. “In fact, Wayne re-named it The Old Couple.”
“I think at some point I’ve worked with everyone who is in the show,” says Schaltenbrand. “In fact, I’ve been in shows with almost everyone of them… except Larry.”
Beauchamp estimates that one cast member, Fred Krauskopf (who plays Speed) has been in every single production of The Odd Couple in the Allen County area since the mid or late 80s, including the all women version (he played a Costazuela brother from upstairs).
And though there have been a lot of productions of The Odd Couple, Wardlaw doesn’t see audiences getting tired of it. “I’m always surprised by how it resurrects itself,” he says. “It seems to have a sort of classic appeal. I think it’s ingrained in a lot of people’s memory as a fun experience. I’m running into people now who say ‘oh, we’re going to come see you’ and I’m thinking ‘oh swell. I guess I will have to learn my lines.’”
The Arena Dinner Theater presents The Odd Couple
February 29 & March 1; March 7 & 8; March 14 & 15
719 Rockhill Street
Call the Arena Box Office at 260.424.5622 or visit www.arenadinnertheatre.org for tickets.