Northlight’s ‘Odd Couple’ a laugh riot
Oscar Madison (Marc Grapey, left) clashes with new roommate Felix Unger (Tim Kazurinsky) in Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" at Northlight Theatre. | Photo by Michael Brosilow
‘The Odd Couple’
through Dec. 9
Northlight Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie
(847) 673-6300; northlight.org
Northlight Theatre’s staging of “The Odd Couple” might have lost some star wattage when George Wendt dropped out of the show to have bypass surgery, but it doesn’t miss a beat with veteran actor Marc Grapey stepping into the role of messy, grouchy Oscar Madison.
And with Tim Kazurinsky as the persnickety Felix Unger and a rock-solid ensemble of supporting players, “The Odd Couple” is absolutely hilarious.
“The Odd Couple” is a deceptively treacherous show — the great danger posed by Neil Simon’s 47-year-old comedy lies in its familiarity. In addition to countless stage productions, the fractious bromance between Oscar and Felix plays out eternally in sitcom reruns. Its sheer ubiquity means that “The Odd Couple” runs the risk of coming off as stale as the month-old potato chips Oscar Madison serves his poker buddies. But by grounding his actors in emotional truth and pinpoint accurate timing, director BJ Jones crafts a fast-paced, intelligent production that generates nonstop laughs a from the opening card shuffle to the closing deal.
The primary pillars supporting the endeavor are Grapey’s Oscar and Kazurinsky’s Felix. Both take a somewhat understated approach to the roles that serves them well. There’s no mugging and no overdone shtick. The duo plays it straight, or as straight as one can in a comedy of constant quips .
Grapey’s Oscar is a sarcastic schlub for whom the phrase “housekeeping skills” is an oxymoron. He never goes over the top, even when he’s handing out sandwiches from his armpits. Kazurinsky’s Felix is just as deft, no easy task given the character’s penchant for strange bodily noises, extreme hypochondria and anal retentive attention to cleanliness and order.
The trap inherent to “The Odd Couple” lies in reducing Felix and Oscar to nothing more than a series of gags and personality tics. That doesn’t happen here. These are men with extremely distinct personalities, but for all their superficial idiosyncrasies, they come across with multi-layered depth.
Even the smallest moments are rich with revealing details. Felix does a goofy cha-cha while vacuuming. Oscar’s concern for his young son rises up through his gruff, irreverent and often inappropriate surface demeanor. And that bit with the underarm sandwiches? It’s comic gold. Ditto that for the ensemble. If you’re not giggling like a school girl during the scene when the card-playing men (Peter DeFaria, William Dick, Bruce Jarchow and Phil Ridarelli) try to appear cool and nonchalant in the face of Felix’s possible leap from Oscar’s 12th floor window, well, you just aren’t paying attention. Equally effective are Molly Glynn and Katherine Keberlein as the naughty, giddy sisters from the apartment upstairs.
Those who are disappointed Wendt won’t be the leading man in “The Odd Couple” won’t be disappointed for long once they see Grapey and Kazurinsky clashing on stage. “The Odd Couple” is not especially deep or provocative, but it is a genuine laugh riot.