(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The regular weekly poker game is under way on a hot summer night in the smoke-filled living room of the once well-kept and fashionable upper West Side apartment of divorced newspaper sports writer Oscar Madison. In the three months since his wife had divorced him, the easygoing, pleasant, but slovenly Oscar has managed to litter his New York City apartment with dirty dishes, discarded clothes, old newspapers, empty bottles, and other trash. Hosting the poker game, Oscar is serving his friends warm drinks (the refrigerator has been broken for two weeks) and green sandwiches that he declares were made from “either very new cheese or very old meat.” The other poker players are Oscar’s friends—Murray, Speed, Roy, and Vinnie. Felix Ungar, Oscar’s best friend, is uncustomarily late for the game, and all the poker players are worried about him.

A phone call to Felix’s wife reveals that Felix and his wife have just separated after twelve years of marriage and that Felix has disappeared, sending his wife a telegram threatening suicide. When Felix finally arrives at the poker game, all the players attempt to calm him by pretending that everything is normal. They steer Felix away from the twelfth-story window of the apartment and wait anxiously as Felix goes into the bathroom. Felix eventually confesses that he had swallowed a whole bottle of pills from his wife’s medicine cabinet and had then vomited. After the poker players depart, Oscar consoles Felix, who reveals that he does not want a divorce and had stayed up the whole night before in a cheap Times Square hotel room considering a suicidal jump from the window. In an attempt to calm and help his friend, Oscar suggests that Felix move in with him. Felix, a fussy and compulsively neat person, agrees and immediately begins to clean up Oscar’s apartment.

At the next poker game, two weeks later, the atmosphere is very different because Felix is in charge. The apartment is immaculate, and Felix is taking orders for food and drink, serving carefully made sandwiches and ice-cold beer, reminding the poker players to put their...

(The entire section is 859 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Odd Couple was not merely another Neil Simon hit: It might be considered the greatest hit of his career, if popularity is measured by the kind of impact a play has on American culture. The Odd Couple ran on Broadway for nearly one thousand performances, then was made into a film (1968), then into a very successful network television program (1970-1975), and then recast in a female version (1985), in which the two roommates are played by women. These facts alone would be significant indications of popularity, but Simon’s play has had such an impact on American life that the phrase “odd couple” has become part of American folklore. Many may not remember the names of the two men or which was the messy one, but nearly every adult is familiar with the situation to which the phrase “odd couple” refers and can use the phrase to describe similar situations.

The Odd Couple refers to Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar. Oscar, the messy one, is divorced from his wife and lives alone in a spacious, eight-room apartment on Riverside Drive in New York City. Even when he entertains Felix and his other poker-playing buddies, Oscar’s apartment is littered with dirty dishes, discarded clothes, and even garbage. When Felix’s wife demands a trial separation, Felix comes to live with Oscar and soon wears out his welcome, even with their poker buddies, because he insists on keeping the apartment sparkling clean and tidy. Furthermore, Felix’s despondency over his separation not only depresses Oscar but also ruins Oscar’s plans to seduce the two British sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon, who live in the apartment above them. When Oscar can endure no...

(The entire section is 690 words.)