The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The Odd Couple begins with a poker game in progress in the apartment of a divorced sportswriter, Oscar Madison. Although the apartment is spacious and furnished in good taste, it is quite untidy and filled with smoke.

The poker game, at present attended by only four of the six players, is a tightly choreographed visual gag. Vinnie is nervously checking his watch; Roy is watching Speed, who is staring at Murray, who is ponderously trying to shuffle and deal the cards. One usual member of this group, Felix Ungar, is absent, and the others are worried about him, for he is high-strung and prone to paranoia. Oscar, a rumbling, grumbling slob with apparently no worries, appears and offers his friends a choice of green or brown sandwiches, which he identifies as “either very new cheese or very old meat.”

A call to Felix’s wife, Frances, reveals that she threw Felix out and soon after received a suicide telegram from him. When Felix finally appears, the others rush to make Oscar’s apartment suicide-proof and scarcely allow him to go to the bathroom by himself. After the friends leave, Oscar attempts to calm Felix down and find out what has happened. Admitting that he is not easy to live with, Felix lists all the reasons why Frances would want a divorce: He has allergies, so that Frances could never wear perfume; he insisted that she list every expense to the penny; he recooked all the meals; he recleaned the house after Frances and a cleaning woman had cleaned it; he was kicked out of a marriage counselor’s office; and he is a total fussbudget. Feeling sorry for his friend, Oscar invites Felix to move in with him. Felix consents only after Oscar agrees to let him do all the cooking.

Act 2, scene 1 takes place two weeks later. It is eleven o’clock in the evening and another poker game is in session, but this one is different. The room is not simply clean; it is “sterile,” according to Neil Simon’s stage directions. Felix is happily serving refreshments and reminding the players to use coasters under their glasses. Murray and Vinnie like the new atmosphere, but Speed and Roy feel uncomfortable. The game breaks up when Roy discovers that Felix has washed the cards with disinfectant.

After the others leave, Felix and Oscar fight about Felix’s constant cleaning and talking. Oscar suggests that they both begin dating. Felix hesitates, but Oscar convinces him to have dinner with two sisters, a divorcee and a widow, who also live in...

(The entire section is 1019 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

In The Odd Couple Neil Simon employs dramatic techniques that hark back to the comedies of Aristophanes. The play is filled with physical humor and visual gags. The opening scene of Oscar’s smoke-filled apartment with dirty dishes, discarded clothing, empty and half-filled glasses, and carelessly tossed-about newspapers surrounding four equally disheveled poker players set the comic mood for the action to follow. The scene of a rampaging Oscar walking on the furniture and dumping ashtrays on the floor while Felix fusses about with dust rag and vacuum cleaner is reminiscent of the broad farce of Aristophanes and Menander. The simple act of opening a beer becomes a gag when Oscar sprays beer over table and players alike. The beginning of act 3 is a classic bit of pantomimic farce, as each man studiously and silently annoys the other.

Simon also brilliantly incorporates the device of repetition. A poker game is the unifying element for all three acts of The Odd Couple. In act 1 the game serves to reveal personalities by presenting information about Felix and Oscar as well as about other characters. During the game the audience learns that Oscar lives alone; this explains the condition of the apartment. Oscar makes his entrance bearing warm beer and brown and green sandwiches of questionable content. Felix’s personality is revealed before he is actually seen. Through stories such as the one about the toilet-paper will, the poker-playing...

(The entire section is 547 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New York City

*New York City. A native of New York City’s Bronx, playwright Neil Simon placed most of his early plays in New York apartments, and his critics often suggest that these largely uniform urban settings limit his appeal. Others suggest that Simon’s comedy transcends place, and the enduring success of The Odd Couple in its many manifestations (stage plays, male and female versions, film, and television) would seem to prove this.

Oscar’s apartment

Oscar’s apartment. In the play’s initial stage directions, Simon indicates that Oscar’s Riverside Drive address suggests a certain gentility and that the grotesquely untidy state of the apartment seems a recent development given the stylish furnishings of Oscar’s wife, who has been away for three months. This subtle visual impression is only reinforced in the dialogue by Oscar’s quip in the first scene that the maid quit (after his wife and children left) because cleaning up after him became too difficult. However, Oscar’s comic messiness is explicitly contrasted in the play’s second act with the extreme tidiness introduced by Felix after he moves in, takes over the housekeeping, and creates the incompatible “marriage.” At the end of the play, Felix relinquishes control over the appearance of the apartment and moves out. Oscar’s last words imply that he will be tidier in the future.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

1965 was a period of considerable turmoil in the United States because President Lyndon Johnson, despite his...

(The entire section is 743 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

In November of 1963, Simon sold the screen-rights for The Odd Couple to Paramount Pictures before he...

(The entire section is 924 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

  • 1965: The divorce rate stood at 2.5% per 1,000 people, down from its high after World War II but up from a...

(The entire section is 632 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

  • Compare the movie version of The Odd Couple with the television series. Which is more effective and why? How does each differ from...

(The entire section is 130 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

  • The Odd Couple was adapted by Simon himself as a 1968 film starring Walter Matthau as Oscar and Jack Lemmon as Felix. Gene...

(The entire section is 232 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

  • Any of the plays of Britain's Alan Ayckbourn, who is often referred to as the "British Neil Simon" because of his commercial popularity,...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Berkowitz, Gerald M. "Neil Simon and His Amazing Laugh Machine," in Players Magazine, Vol. 47, no. 3,...

(The entire section is 244 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

“Divorce Broadway Style.” Newsweek, March 22, 1965, 90-91. A contemporary review of the original Broadway production that considered the play limited and predictable, pleasurable but unmemorable and more entertainment than art. Describes the play as “an extended situation with no interior development and with a tacked-on denouement.”

“Divorce Is What You Make It.” Time, March 19, 1965, 66. A contemporary review of the original Broadway production that describes The Odd Couple as “an evening of group hysteria” and “an astutely characterized study in incompatibility.”


(The entire section is 234 words.)