Cow Patti brings “The Odd Couple” to Lacombe

Cast members of Cow Patti Theatre Company's production of "The Odd Couple" rehearse a scene last Thursday morning. Pictured (left to right) are John Dickhout, Garfield Andrews, Liam Collins, Mark Burgues and Eric Finlayson. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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The shenanigans of a neat freak and a slob who end up as roommates will take the Lacombe Golf and Country Club stage as the Cow Patti Theatre Company opens its 22nd season with “The Odd Couple.”

Written in 1963 by Neil Simon, the play follows fussy Felix Unger and his easy-going, slovenly friend Oscar Madison as they navigate not only divorce, but living with each other and their clashing habits. It’s entertained audiences as a Broadway production, a film, and a couple different T.V. series, but now the laughter and smiles it’s delivered to audiences elsewhere will be brought to central Alberta.

“It’s not Christmas based at all, but it’s entertaining and probably the most classic piece of theatre (Simon) ever wrote,” said actress and Cow Patti Director AnnaMarie Lea. “Mr. Simon passed away in August, so I feel quite privileged and honoured that we’re going to be taking his signature show and giving it to our audiences.”

Deciding the first show of the year is always tricky, as the timing aligns with the holiday season and the Christmas party crowd.

After the success of “The Christmas Express” last year, Lea says she thought about doing another Christmas play. However, many Christmas shows end up being large-scale productions and couldn’t be accommodated in the space at the golf and country club.

She settled on “The Odd Couple,” knowing it would attract the more mature audiences who saw the movie, as well as younger theatre-goers who might be more familiar with Matthew Perry’s 2015 revamp of the series.

“I’ve produced the female version four times, but this is the original… It’s the same, but very different,” she said. “Bottom line, we’re here to entertain and this show is funny, it’s physical, it’s real guys in real situations. You see some of the more serious topics within the show, but definitely through a comic lens.”

The cast features a diverse cast of eight, with new and old faces joining the Cow Patti herd.

Long-time Cow Patti actor Garfield Andrews, who has previously worked on “The Odd Couple- Female Version,” “The Butler Did It,” “The Long Weekend” and “Perfect Wedding” will take on the lead role of Felix.

Oscar, meanwhile, will be played by Sal Scozzari. While Scozzari is a newcomer to the Cow Patti stage he has over 30 years of experience in the industry including in the 2007 Hairspray film as a dancer in “Good Morning Baltimore” and “Welcome to the 60’s,” national and international work with Mirvish Productions as well as the Stratford Festival.

Eric Finlayson (Roy), Liam Collins (Murry), John Dickhout (Vinnie), Mark Burgues (Speed), Valerie Barrett and Lea herself (the Pigeon sisters) will round out the cast.

Each of the actors, new to Cow Patti or not, praised Lea not just for her own acting abilities, but her direction and the atmosphere she’s created in Central Alberta for actors.

Dickhout, a heart transplant recipient who began pursuing a career in professional theatre after learning his donor, Adam, had a love for the arts, said he’d heard a lot of great things about Lea from cast mates in other shows, and went out of his way to “plant the seeds” to work with her.

Collins, who is the son of “The Ladies Foursome” Director Jesse Collins and recently finished his Masters in Computer Science at McGill University, said he was there primarily to work with Lea.

“I’m here for AnnaMarie. I’ve seen her work a lot – she’s an amazing actress, but her directions are also really incredible,” he said.

His words were echoed by Finlayson, who was previously in “The Butler Did It” and has spent the past two years working for Disney as Prince Charming and Jack Sparrow in Japan.

“She picks really great plays. The shows are so much fun,” he said. “We’re already two days into rehearsal and we’re running across that stage…I can’t wait to see all the fun that comes out of it and I know the audience is going to like it.”

Andrews and Scozzari meanwhile both agreed the shows Cow Patti puts on are always professional, with no difference in quality between the higher-end Broadway venues in New York and the smaller community of Lacombe.

In the theatre industry, Cow Patti is developing a strong reputation for just that, which was part of why Burgues is making his debut with Cow Patti this year as well.

“It might bring a smile to people’s faces in Lacombe, but my agent said anyone who has ever worked out here raves about it and raves about AnnaMarie and the theatre,” he said. “Lacombe really has a small jewel in Canadian Theatre. I’d be very proud of that and cherish that.”

“The Odd Couple” will debut on Nov. 15 and run until Dec. 16.

As always, Cow Patti Theatre Company will host benefit shows as part of their commitment to give back to the community. A total of 12 will be held, with funds raised going towards the Lacombe Performing Arts Centre Foundation, The Lending Cupboard, Bentley Library Society, Kasota East Camp, Caroline Seniors, Make a Move with Jagger Foundation and the Sawyer Kiist Passion for Life Bursary. To date, Cow Patti has raised over half a million dollars for area organizations.

For show dates, times and ticket information details, visit www.cowpatti.com.

The next show, which won’t debut until March 14th, will be another comedy by Canadian playwright Norm Foster entitled “Halfway There.” It will run until April 7, 2019.

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