Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 446
Oscar Madison, a carefree, good-natured, divorced sportswriter who lives alone in a messy eight-room New York apartment. He is completely oblivious to dirt, clutter, and the overdue child-support payments about which his wife telephones weekly. He has his male cronies in for a weekly poker game with refreshments that invite food poisoning. Oscar’s lifestyle is abruptly turned around when he takes in one of the members of the group, Felix Ungar, whose wife has thrown him out. Everything is now antiseptically clean, the food served to the poker players is appetizing, and there is money to pay his former wife, Blanche. Felix is so compulsive, however, that Oscar cannot live with him and forcefully requests that he leave.
Felix Ungar, a fussy man who knows that he is difficult to live with but cannot—or will not—make any concessions or compromises. His wife, unwilling to continue their marriage, asks him to leave the family despite his suicide threat, and he then moves in with Oscar. Made comical by his exaggerated behavior, Felix is persuaded by the end of the play to live temporarily with the Pigeon sisters, who pity him, but it is probable that they too will find him exasperating.
Gwendolyn Pigeon and
Cecily Pigeon, English sisters who live in the apartment building. Attractive, intellectually lightweight, and somewhat flirtatious, they accept Oscar’s invitation for dinner. As he leaves the room to make drinks, they speak blithely of their divorces to Felix, who then shows them snapshots of his family, breaking into tears and encouraging them to join him in his sorrow. Because the London broil that Felix has prepared is ruined as a result of Oscar’s casual lateness in coming home, the Pigeon sisters invite the men to their place for potluck. Felix will not go, despite Oscar’s pleading, but later they feel sorry for “the poor tortured” Felix and persuade him to stay at their place until he finds one of his own.
Murray, an atypical New York policeman, a good-natured clod who will never become a detective. He is one of the weekly poker players.
Roy, Oscar’s accountant. Somewhat critical of Oscar’s behavior, Roy routinely loans him money to “stay in the game.” He is another of the weekly poker players.
Vinnie, a cheapskate who goes to Florida in midsummer to take advantage of low rates and who leaves the poker game when he is ahead.
Speed, a man of simple tastes who enjoys the male camaraderie of the weekly poker sessions. He is disgusted when Felix turns their poker nights into “tea parties.”
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 626
Oscar Madison is the "messy" half of this famous "odd coupie." Oscar takes pity on his best friend, the newly separated and nearly suicidal Felix Ungar, and invites Felix to live with him in his New York City apartment. Within two weeks, however, Oscar regrets the invitation. The 43-year-old Oscar is carefree, pleasant, and very appealing as a character. When asked by one of the poker players what kind of sandwiches he's serving, Oscar looks under the bread and says, "I got brown sandwiches and green sandwiches." The green, he says, is "either very new cheese or very old meat." At the end of the play there is a suggestion that Oscar's experience with Felix has provoked a change in his personality because Oscar's last words in the play are an admonishment to the poker players to be less messy. In both the original Broadway stage production in 1965 and in the movie version of 1968, Oscar was played by Walter Matthau. In the five-year television series beginning in 1970, Oscar was played by Jack Klugman.
Murray, one of the poker players, is a policeman and a methodical, even slow, thinker. He is also very gentle and caring, and demonstrates the most concern for Felix. Murray is fairly unflappable, but he is also a bit simple and naive.
Cecily Pigeon is a little more uninhibited than her sister, Gwendolyn; she is the one who makes such suggestive remarks as, "Oh, we've done spectacular things but I don't think we'd want it spread all over the telly."
Though the Pigeon sisters seem almost indistinguishable, Simon describes Gwendolyn as the "mother hen." Like her sister Cicely, Gwendolyn is in her 30s, British, attractive, and works as a secretary for the Slenderama Health Club. She is a little slower mentally than her sister—she has trouble remembering Felix's name.
Roy is Oscar's accountant and a man with an acute sense of smell. He is the poker player who complains most about air quality and bad odors in Oscar's apartment. In the second act he storms from the game because the fastidious Felix has put disinfectant on the playing cards.
As his name implies, Speed is always in a hurry. He is the impatient poker player—sarcastic, complaining, and even a little mean. As the curtain rises on Murray shuffling the cards with agonizing slowness, the caustic Speed has the play's sharp first line: "Tell me, Mr. Maverick, is this your first time on the riverboat?"
Felix Ungar is the"neat'' member of the "odd couple," originally played on Broadway by Art Carney (he also played the character Norton on the popular Jackie Gleason television comedy The Honeymooners). In the movie, the role was rendered by Jack Lemmon, and in the television series Tony Randall portrayed Felix. A 44-year-old news writer for CBS, Felix responds to his wife's decision to end their marriage by considering suicide, but in Simon's comic world, attempted suicide is funny rather than serious; the compulsively tidy Felix sends his suicide note to his wife in a telegram. Oscar claims that Felix's problem is an obsession with control and urges Felix to "let loose" once in a while, to do something he "feels" like doing rather than always doing what he thinks he's "supposed" to do. At the end of the play, when Felix accepts the invitation from the Pigeon sisters to stay in their apartment, he is perhaps demonstrating a less conventional aspect of his personality.
Vinnie, the last of the poker players, is nervous and eccentric. At the initial poker game he is constantly checking his watch because he wants to leave early—he's departing for a vacation in Florida (in July) the next morning.