Posted Online: July 03, 2014, 12:54 pm

'Odd Couple' cast has 400 plays under its belt

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By Claudia Loucks, cjloucks@qconline.com

Photo: Submitted
Director Mike Skiles (standing) gives notes to the Richmond Hill cast of "The Odd Couple" at a recent rehearsal.
GENESEO – Mike Skiles has been involved with Richmond Hill Players on stage and off for the last 15 years, but has never before directed a play. He'll introduce himself in that role in the upcoming production of "The Odd Couple," which opens next week.

Neil Simon's 1965 comedy classic was turned into a 1968 film with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau playing mismatched roommates (one divorced and one recently thrown out by his wife): the neat, uptight Felix Ungar and the slovenly, easygoing Oscar Madison. It became a popular '70s TV series starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, and Mr. Simon adapted the play in 1985 to feature a pair of women (Florence Ungar and Olive Madison) in "The Female Odd Couple."

After having been involved in approximately 35 plays at Richmond Hill, yet never having directed, Mr. Skiles said: "I thought I'd give it a shot." Neil Simon's witty dialogue, vibrant characters, timely themes and hilarious one-liners have made him one of the most produced playwrights of the 20th century and a true legend of American stage comedy, he said.

"Its touching insights about friendship remain equally moving, nearly 50 years after his Broadway debut, when it won Simon the 1965 Tony Award for Best Author of Play," Mr. Skiles said.

"The play calls for the actors to be in their 30s and 40s," Skiles said. "I decided to make it even more geriatric, so no one in the cast is under 50."

"The amount of experience that is gathered on stage is astounding," the director said, noting this cast has been involved in close to 400 plays." "The Odd Couple" cast features Greg Cripple, Bettendorf (as Felix); John VanDeWoestyne (as Oscar), Glenn Kluge, Jackie Patterson, Ray Rogers and Jackie Skiles, Geneseo; Spiro Bruskas, Aledo, and Michael Miller, Silvis.

Mr. Skiles was first on stage when he was a junior in high school in Cambridge and was cast in "Headin to a Weddin." He and his wife, Jackie, have been involved with Geneseo's community theater in many different capacities, onstage and backstage, operating lights and sound and working on crew, not to mention their hours in the box office and concessions.

Mr. Skiles is the current vice president of Richmond Hill Players. The Skiles' daughters, Dana Skiles and Kari Moore, also are involved in RHP. "My mother-in-law, Laura Favre, is one of the founding members of RHP and still comes to the plays," Mr. Skiles said.

The couple may find even more time for Richmond Hill as both now are retired. He worked at MidAmerican Energy and his wife was employed at the Rock Island Arsenal. Mr. and Mrs. Skiles met as teens while both were members of the former Knights Drum & Bugle Corps.

At that time in their lives, Mr. Skiles said they both were more focused on music than theater. They were married in 1981. He became involved with RHP in 2000 when Mrs. Skiles was working on a dinner theater play, "Don't Drink the Water."

"I helped install the temporary stage," he said. Later that same year, he said his wife "coerced him into accepting a role when another actor had to drop out. That first role was in "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest." He has played several parts in the last 15 years, but said his favorite role was in 2004 when he was Boolie Werthan in "Driving Miss Daisy."

"I was privileged to work with Muff LoGuidice and Reggie Jarrell in that play," he said. "When I'm acting, theater gives me a chance to be someone else for a short while, and hopefully entertain the audience at the same time. When I work backstage on a production, I know that I have done my part to bring the play to life for the patrons."

"I'm one of those people who really enjoy working on every aspect of theater," he said. Even though he was at first hesitant to appear on stage, Mr. Skiles admits he has "found a love for the theater."


If you go

What: "The Odd Couple."
When: Thursday through Sunday, July 10-13 (and again July 17-20), with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m.
Where: The Barn Theater, atop Richmond Hill Park in Geneseo.
Tickets: $10, available at 309-944-2244 or rhplayers.com.