'The Odd Couple' a play about friends, by friends

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

Five guys sitting around a table playing poker, eating, drinking, talking.

It's the opening scene from Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple," presented by Clear Theater Collective, and the actors on stage make the friendships among this eclectic group of poker buddies seem real.

In this case, it's because the friendships are real.

What started as an idea among a group of longtime friends to put on a show culminates in two free performances of "The Odd Couple" Aug. 10 and 11 at Williamsburg Regional Library.

And John-Michael Jalonen, the friend who planted the idea, hopes Clear Theater Collective doesn't end there.

"It was definitely an experiment just to see if it could work, and I think we found that if we're ambitious enough, and we give ourselves enough time, we can make it work," Jalonen, 24, said.

The 10 friends involved set out to present a free production, and in raising most of the funds through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, they'll pull it off.

It's a philosophy learned from Naomi Marrow, founder of Backstage Productions, another local theater group that presents free theater. Jalonen said the friend group met through involvement with Backstage, estimating they've performed in at least 30 shows together throughout the years.

"This is sort of our way of continuing that tradition of keeping theater free and making it accessible," Jalonen said.

Choosing "The Odd Couple" made sense.

"We're all 20-somethings who are friends, but we're doing a show about people in their middle-ages who are all friends. And so what really is at the core there is that friendship," Jalonen said. "And that's what we're striving for."

Not to mention, "It's a funny show, and we're funny people," said Quentin Bembower, 27.

What's interesting about the production is the level of investment. "The Odd Couple" was directed collectively. One cast member painted the sets, another designed the programs. Everybody had a job, Jalonen said.

Even the audience has a level of investment, more so than just buying a ticket, Jalonen thinks.

"A lot of the people in our audience will be people that donated or people that built walls for us or painted for us," he said. "Even if you're somebody coming in off the street to see it, you'll be surrounded by people who are really invested in making the show happen, and I think that's really interesting."

Though the play and the company started among friends, Jalonen hopes it's an idea that others can get behind.

"Going forward, we definitely want to reach out," he said. "If people are interested, we want them to come to us and say, hey, we want to be a part of something."

Regardless, the experience has been meaningful for the friends involved.

"We all have a special place in our heart for theater," said Bri Allen, 21. "It's kind of what brought us all together and made us all become friends."

"If this company doesn't stay, I know theater's going to stay with all of us forever," she said.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

The Odd Couple

When: 6:30 p.m., Aug. 10 and 11

Where: Williamsburg Regional Library, 515 Scotland St.

To contact Clear Theater Collective, email cleartheaterco@gmail.com.

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