Jody Kujawa (left), who played Oscar and Felix in “The Odd Couple” and Jason Skorich, who also played Oscar and Felix, rehearsed scenes from the play at the Duluth Playhouse in this 2014 photo. On this particular night Kujawa played Oscar and Skorich played Felix. 2014 file/ News Tribune
It’s been about a year since Jody Kujawa and Jason Skorich performed the ultimate “Odd Couple” challenge: The local actors switched between playing Felix and Oscar on alternating nights.
Here’s an A&E Flashback — The story that ran Jan. 28, 2014:
Oscar Madison is a mess. He’s a recently divorced sportswriter. His hair stands on end, his shirts are stained, his stuff is scattered everywhere.
If you think he annoyed his ex-wife, you should see what his neatnik roommate, Felix Ungar, thinks about him.
Oscar might be Felix’s nightmare, but he’s been a dream role for local comedic actor Jody Kujawa.
“I’ve always wanted to play Oscar,” he said. “It’s the perfect role. It’s a slob role. It’s the guy that
doesn’t care, the kind of guy that’s rebelling against his life.”
Finally, Kujawa landed the role – with a twist.
In the Duluth Playhouse’s upcoming production of “The Odd Couple,” the two lead actors will switch roles on alternating nights. Kujawa will open the show as Oscar and the next night he will be Felix. Same goes for Jason Scorich, who plays opposite.
“The Odd Couple” is Neil Simon’s story of freshly divorced poker pals who come to be roommates. One exists in a laidback haze of cigar smoke and snack packages; the other is a compulsively organized foil.
The tribulations of Oscar and Felix have played out on Broadway, with Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney as Felix, in film with Matthau and Jack Lemmon, and on TV with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.
The switcheroo was director Julie Ahasay’s idea, and the actors knew the plan going into auditions.
“Most everybody I know has some Oscar and some Felix,” she said. “I thought it would be an interesting challenge to play with that a bit.
“In some ways, Jody is a more obvious choice for Oscar and Jason is a more obvious choice for Felix; it’s fascinating to see that turned on its head.”
It’s the challenge that further piqued the actors’ interests.
“It’s a seemingly impossible thing to do,” Kujawa said. “It’s flattering that you would think I have the ability to pull that sort of thing off.”
It’s a unique situation, Scorich said, and he welcomed the chance to stretch himself as an actor.
“I couldn’t think of something that would be much more of a challenge than playing both parts,” he said.
Both actors opted to learn both roles simultaneously.
Kujawa took it page by page, investing hours of work only to find he had committed only five pages to memory.
Scorich’s method included reading and re-reading, first as one character, then as the other. He recorded Oscar’s lines and left blank air so he could respond as Felix. Then he recorded Felix, leaving room for Oscar’s lines.
“I really tried to memorize it in as many ways as I could,” he said.
Until recently, the actors have had the option of nixing the plan. If it got to be too much, they could go back to just playing a single role.
“I wanted them to start working on stuff and see how they felt about it,” Ahasay said. “It’s one thing when it’s an idea. But you have to actually start doing the work it takes to make it happen.”
Kujawa said he and Scorich believed they could pull it off. And once word spread through the local theater scene, there was no turning back.
“I was like, if you’re going to commit to something that arrogant, you have to do it,” Kujawa said. “(Although) I don’t know that it was arrogant because there was sheer terror. When people question me about it, I say Sometimes your vanity gets the best of you. You deserve what you get and you reap what you sow.’ ”
It’s not uncommon for theater sorts to take a show and give it an extreme twist. The leads in Sam Shepard’s “True West” have switched roles. Last year, the University of Minnesota Duluth’s theater department produced an all-female production of Shakespeare’s “Coriolano” – and renamed it “Coriolana.”
In 2004, Entertainment Weekly magazine reported a rumor that a Broadway revival of “The Odd Couple” would sometimes feature Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in their opposite roles. And later this year, Skyway Playhouse in Camarillo, Calif., will attempt the same feat. The community theater is taking it seriously.
“This is not up for debate or discussion,” it says on the Skyway Playhouse’s website. “It’s a vital component of this particular vision. If you don’t feel you can accomplish this, do not audition for those roles.”
The night-to-night performances will not be mirrors of each other. Kujawa and Scorich have taken ownership of the separate roles and Ahasay has left room for a little spontaneity.
Kujawa and Scorich have been meeting up at least an hour before rehearsals to get into character and run lines.
Scorich said when he’s Oscar, he’s Oscar.
“If I’m playing Felix, the Oscar lines will fall out of my head,” he said.
Kujawa said he has been surprised to find that he prefers playing Felix.
“Which is weird because I went in with Oscar as my dream role,” he said. “I think it’s because it was so out of the box I had to work harder and think about it harder.”