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Speaking With... George Wendt and Tim Kazurinsky 11.02.12

George Wendt (left) Tim Kazurinsky  are starring 'Odd Couple' Northlight Theater Skokie. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

George Wendt (left) and Tim Kazurinsky are starring in the "Odd Couple" at Northlight Theater in Skokie. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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♦ Through Dec. 9

♦ Northlight Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie

♦ Tickets, $25-$72

♦ (847) 673-6300:

Updated: December 3, 2012 6:05AM

They’re a couple of old pals, playing, well a couple of old pals.

Second City alums George Wendt and Tim Kazurinksy have “come home” to star in Simon’s classic comedy, “The Odd Couple,” which begins previews Nov. 2 at Northlight Theatre. The cast, directed by BJ Jones, also includes fellow Second City alum Bruce Jarchow, along with William Dick, Molly Glynn, Marc Grapey, Katherine Keberlein and Phil Ridarelli.

The duo recently chatted with the Sun-Times about comedy, friendship and politics.

Question:What attracted you to this project?

Tim Kazurinsky: It’s a great show and a great opportunity to work with George.

George Wendt: Same for me. It’s a hilarious piece by Neil Simon. And the chance to work with Tim, and BJ [Jones[ and all the folks was too good to pass up.

Q.Since you two first worked together at Second City in the late 1970s, how much has the other changed?

GW: He hasn’t changed much. He’s funny, and just as crazy and still super nice. He’s a real thoughtful, considerate team player. His comedy is effortless and he’s particularly well-cast in this role.

TK: It’s always the same. Back in 1978 at Second City, the thing I loved about George was his minimalism. He could deadpan like nobody’s business and with such a straight face. He could do more with nothing, with just a look. I loved his droll sense of humor. And coming back (to the stage] after 34 years, my Lord! George at least has been really active in theater, doing “Hairspray,” “12 Angry Men.” I’ve been a screenwriter for 25 years. I’m the rusty bucket and George couldn’t be nicer with helping me get back on the boards.

Q.How is each of you like or not like your characters of Oscar and Felix?

GW: Well, unlike Oscar, I’m not divorced. [Laughs] Yet. I’m always one good screw up from being thrown out on my ear. I’m a sports fan, so I would have coveted Oscar’s career [as a sportswriter]. I like journalists. I like New York. I’m not really super sloppy, but sometimes, as I’m getting older and spending a lot of time on the road with theater jobs, I’ll look around my apartment and see grocery bags, take-out containers, and notice the odors from the garbage and realize I’ve turned into [the late Second City patriarch] Del Close! [Laughs] I think his apartment was kinda like Oscar’s only with more books.

TK: I have to come clean — I’m shamefully very much like Felix. I am an organizational freak, literally. If I were blinded by wolverines being set to my eyes, the very next day I could go in my kitchen and make a sardine sandwich with mayonnaise because I’d know exactly where everything is. And I’m always the “be prepared” kind of guy. I was in ROTC back in Australia where I grew up. I couldn’t afford a scout uniform. The army had free uniforms and free machines guns so I went with ROTC. I’m a dink.

GW: It’s true! He’s Mr. Contingency. In his car he has snow chains, antacids, Kleenex, dental floss, water, a backpack full of survival gear.

Q.What is it about Neil Simon’s comedy that’s timeless?

GW: That’s it exactly. It’s timeless. When something is funny, it’s funny. Some of the richest, best laughs in literature are from Neil Simon. It’s not just this play. But this one is probably his high point of straight-up, pound-for-pound laughs.

TK: [Simon’s] the master. Inch for inch, pound for pound, is anyone funnier? His comedy speaks to real people. I can’t think of a funnier writer. You go through the play and it’s so larded with laughs.

Q.Do you guys bond with your guy pals like the card-playing bunch of “The Odd Couple”?

GW: I don’t play cards much with my friends. We get together more around football games on TV. Not so much baring of souls goes on.

TK: Men have not moved all that far from these guys. It’s still difficult for men to bare their emotions. The nice thing in Second City is that we were this dysfunctional family. We still are all close. You know they’re there for you.

Q.So what’s the best thing Second City taught you about acting and comedy?

GW: It was my first job and darn near my last. [Laughs] It goes back to the most fundamental thing: focus — a sense of where it’s supposed to be on stage and knowing when to take focus and when to give it. And listening. In improv, if you’re not listening, you’re dead in the water. Second City fosters a strong sense of the ensemble that translates over to scripted theater.

TK: People forget that a variety of talents came out of the Second City farm. Comic actors, really good actors, such as Alan Arkin, my favorite actor of all time, came from there. There are screenwriters that came out of there. Directors. As a writer, Second City helped me learn that people don’t speak in complete sentences. They speak in fragments. An there’s nothing in life if you don’t have correct pronunciation.

Q.Since we’re about to come up to our presidential election day, what’s your take on the campaign process and whom are you voting for?

GW: It’s an appalling process as a nation on every level — local, state and national. The advertising, the money-drivenness of it all is appalling. They’re discussing things like religion and sidetracking the real issues. It’s stupid. Me, I’ voting for Obama.

TK: I grew up in Australia and there, everyone of voting age must attend the polls. You don’t have to cast a vote, but you must go to the polls or you are fined. And you are not allowed to campaign until six weeks before election day. This three-ring circus of two years before the election with billions of dollars spent is criminal. I’m for Obama because I would rather have a president than a CEO.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Shortly after this interview, George Wendt left the show due to health reasons. Mark Grapey (who made his Broadway debut opposite Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in “The Odd Couple”) will assume the role of Oscar.

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