Classic American comedy hits Islamabad

Directed by US Cultural Envoy Allen Nause, The Odd Couple opens at the PNCA auditorium.

Rayan Khan July 13, 2011
Classic American comedy hits Islamabad


Cue: Smooth jazz, stage lights. Five guys sit at a smart poker table in a tasteful and well-furnished living room. One of them — Oscar Madison (played by Atif Siddique), a divorcee — owns the sixties bachelor pad. The universal stereotype of ‘stag night’ is envisioned — this married/divorced club of middle-aged New Yorkers drinking beer and poking fun at the ‘missus’.

The men are all anxious about their obsessive-compulsive friend Felix Ungar (Faisal Imtiaz), also undergoing a nasty divorce. Little do they know how much laid-back and macho Oscar’s life is about to change when Felix finally shows up to the poker game, heartbroken and divorce-traumatised, and installs himself as Oscar’s roommate.

This is the gist of Neil Simon’s 1965 opus The Odd Couple, which opened Tuesday in Islamabad and centres on the dysfunctional relationship of two roommates with totally incompatible personalities. At the auditorium of Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA), this is not something you’ll see every day. The Broadway play reveals Pulitzer Prize-winning Simon’s telltale preference for the dynamics between pairings and contrasting personalities forced into reconciling their differences.

Directed by US Cultural Envoy Allen Nause and produced by Lush Management’s CEO Usama Qazi, the play is a collaborative Pakistani and American production; and it’s a strong initiative on the part of the US embassy to facilitate the country’s English theatre scene. In his introductory kickoff speech, US Ambassador Cameron Munter compared US-Pak relations to the love-hate relationship between Oscar and Felix.

“Like Oscar and Felix, we can all learn to live together and this is a very effective pairing of American and Pakistani talent,” said Ambassador Munter.

Siddique is a credit to the show — his strong delivery and consistent performance won fanfare and chuckles from the crowd. Similarly, Imtiaz’s high energy, rapport and onstage chemistry with Siddique made for some side-splitting moments; the young actor did a stellar job with fleshing out Felix’s domestic habits, a constant irritation to his counterpart.

“It’s my first time as a lead actor,” said Imtiaz with a look of complete wonderment, like he was amazed he had made it out of the opening night ordeal alive. His one fault: Sometimes the dialogue came out a little garbled. Much of this, and this applies to the majority of the cast, could have something to do with the tricky problem of ‘accents.’

In live theatre, the suspension of disbelief and staying in character are next to godliness; the illusion of reality must be maintained above all else otherwise you’re going to lose the audience. But when you’ve got a play set in 60s New York, in a vintage apartment, its credibility gets dimmed by the strong and unchecked desi twang of some of the actors.

“We did coach them in pitch and getting the accent,” said Nause after the show; this is admittedly a challenging task.

Many also raised eyebrows over the relevancy of this American play to Pakistani audiences: What makes Oscar’s plight relatable to Islamabad, other than its emphasised relevance to foreign policy?

“Well that was the big question,” said Nause. “My feeling is that Oscar and Felix are universal characters.” But universal in what way? Pakistan may understand complicated friendships, but the 60s getup is still alien to the nation as is the stylised language, more equipped for Broadway, that fails to roll off the Pakistani tongue elegantly. Ultimately, the audience gets the trump card: Their laughter echoed the play’s success and the production will continue, without interruption, till July 17. 

Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2011.


Qudsia Sadiq | 12 years ago | Reply

An absolutely magnificent performance by Atif Siddique! The Entire cast did really well. A very well executed play. Thumbs up to Usama Qazi and Allen Nause!

Phana | 12 years ago | Reply

Thumbs up for Atif Siddique. He did a spectacular job. His best performance!!!

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