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How Neil Simon Wrote…and Rewrote The Odd Couple


By Fredric Dannen

Since its Broadway debut in 1965, Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple has remained his most popular play—“The biggest hit I ever had, and ever will have,” he said in a 1997 interview. Simon’s story of two mismatched roommates—incurable slob Oscar Madison and inveterate neat freak Felix Ungar—contains everything that has kept the author at the top of his profession for a half-century and garnered him more combined Tony and Oscar nominations than any other writer. But constructing The Odd Couple did not come easily to Simon, in particular, the third act, which he wrote and rewrote during tryouts in Wilmington and Boston, finding himself at times “dejected” and “realizing how difficult this playwriting business is.”

A new production of The Odd Couple at the San Miguel Playhouse runs for eight performances from February 22 through March 4, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7pm, Sundays at 3pm. It stars veteran stage, film, and television actor Fil Formicola (SplashLaw & Order) as Oscar and local celebrity actor and countertenor Don Krim (The 39 StepsThe Tricky Part) as Felix. Reserved seat tickets are 300 pesos, available in the courtyard at 57a Mesones (corner of Reloj) from 2:30–5:30pm every day except Sunday or online at

The origin of the play is a matter of dispute, but the likeliest story is that Neil Simon took inspiration from his older brother Danny, himself a television writer. Danny got divorced in 1962 and, for a time, shared an apartment with newly single theatrical agent Roy Gerber, an arrangement that did not run smoothly. In The Odd Couple, Oscar’s wife, Blanche, has recently divorced him and moved to California with their children, leaving him to putter alone in his eight-room Manhattan apartment, which is becoming increasingly slovenly. At the start of the play, Felix’s wife, Frances, has thrown him out and filed for divorce. The wives never appear onstage, but Simon created six other characters—four poker-playing buddies and Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon, a pair of loopy sisters from England who live in Oscar’s high-rise.

The original production, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Walter Matthau and Art Carney, seemed like a surefire hit, except for a weak third act. In rehearsals, Simon has recalled, “I spent three days, three nights working on a new third act.” According to Simon, when it was tested in a table read, “it was worse” than the original. “That’s when the panic set in,” he said.

The play was well-received during tryouts in Wilmington, Delaware, and Boston, but the final act was still “sagging,” Simon said. Boston Globe theater critic Elliot Norton called Simon on the phone and made a suggestion: why not bring the Pigeon Sisters back in Act III?

“A light bulb went off in my head,” Simon said. The revised play opened on Broadway on March 10, 1965, and ran for 966 performances.


The Odd Couple

By Neil Simon

Starring Fil Formicola and Don Krim

Thu–Sat, Feb 22–24, 7pm

Sun, Feb 25, 3pm

Thu–Sat, Mar 1–3, 7pm

Sun, Mar 4, 3pm

San Miguel Playhouse

Av. Independencia 82

Reserved seat tickets 300 pesos advance, 350 at door



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