Felix and Oscar’s jokes hold up better than their marriages
By HEDY WEISS Theater email@example.com November 11, 2012 4:45PM
Oscar Madison (Marc Grapey, left) clashes with new roommate Felix Unger (Tim Kazurinsky) in Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" at Northlight Theatre.
‘THE ODD COUPLE’
When: Through Dec. 9
Where: Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie Blivd., Skokie
Info: (847) 673-6300; www.northlight.org
Updated: December 13, 2012 10:24AM
You might well be excused for rolling your eyes at the news that “The Odd Couple,” Neil Simon’s 1965 comedy (which spawned both a film and a beloved television series), is now in a revival at Northlight Theatre. But for those who understand that there is an excellent reason why old chestnuts remain ever-fresh chestnuts — and that getting acquainted with the play once again might prove to be great fun — the reward will be in the laughter.
“The Odd Couple” may be wholly familiar, but it still can generate spontaneous laughter with its zinging one-liners and its observations on the loopy behavior of men newly hit by divorce and sentenced to living outside the civilizing, socializing, becalming influence of women (even if they could no longer live with the women in question).
Written at a time when divorce was becoming more commonplace, the play suggests that as annoying as a marriage might be, men (especially those in middle age) often become unmoored, unhinged or something short of happy when they become unhitched. Or at the very least, their innate quirks become magnified. (The play was written long before gay marriage entered into the picture, but its a good bet someone might soon work a variation on the plight of gay men who have divorced.)
As for Oscar Madison (Marc Grapey) — the devil-may-care slob who works as a sportswriter, still lives in the eight-room apartment he once shared with his wife and kids, and is already behind in his child support payments — it is the lack of female company (“something soft”) that is driving him nuts. The arrival of a temporary “roommate,” in the form of the neurotic, depressed, compulsively neat and overly domesticated TV news writer Felix Ungar (Tim Kazurinsky) only exacerbates things.
Grapey (who stepped in after George Wendt suffered a heart attack and, as it happened, had understudied for both Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the play’s 2005 Broadway revival) is perfection as Oscar. His smart, jaded, laid-back but invariably spot-on comic timing is unique, and seemingly effortless. And Kazurinsky, as the energetically elfish and manic drama queen who pines for his wife — and oppresses Oscar with his compulsive domesticity — is just needy and controlling enough to be an ideal comic foil.
The diverse group of poker-playing buddies who gather in Oscar’s apartment add to the merriment, even if there also is an underlying sense of sadness in their spikey camaraderie. And director BJ Jones has cast these “types” winningly, with Peter DeFaria as the soft-hearted New York cop; Phil Ridarelli as the loutish guy who finds escape in his nights with the boys; William Dick as the happily henpecked husband who takes his family on off-price, off-season vacations to Florida; and Bruce Jarchow as Oscar’s reserved but acerbic accountant.
This being the “swinging ’60s,” there also are a couple of leggy English birds — “a divorcee” and a “widow” — renting an apartment upstairs, and fully ready for a good time. With a bow to Oscar Wilde, Simon named the Pigeon sisters Gwendolyn (Katherine Keberlein) and Cecily (Molly Flynn).
Jack Magaw’s set, which pulls the playing space close to the audience, is just right. And of course the sight of Oscar’s chaos quickly being swept into order by Felix is the visual sight gag that might just be the metaphor for both a good marriage and an inevitable divorce.