Chicago Theater Review: THE ODD COUPLE (Northlight Theatre in Skokie)

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by Dan Zeff on November 12, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


Northlight audiences should cut the theater’s revival of The Odd Couple some slack. The production took a major hit when co-star George Wendt was forced to drop out of the show only a few days before the scheduled opening for medical reasons. So the production pulled Marc Grapey out of the supporting cast to take on the key role of Oscar Madison, replacing Grapey with a new actor.

The Odd Couple opened on schedule Friday night after what must have been a week of very intense rehearsals. On the positive side, Grapey holds his own admirably as Oscar Madison, the genial slob. And co-star Tim Kazurinsky does his job as the neurotic Felix Unger. As the duo gets performances under their belt, they should get even better. On the negative side, there are problems with the production’s supporting male actors that reflect wobbly casting might not improve with time.

Dan Zeff’s Stage and Cinema review of THE ODD COUPLE at Northlight in Skokie (Chicago)

The Odd Couple ranks with The Man Who Came to Dinner as the funniest play in American theater. Neil Simon took a simple premise and expanded it into an evening-long feast of one-liners and deliciously comic situations. The distraught Felix moves in with Oscar after his wife suddenly ends their marriage. But Oscar and Felix are truly an odd couple, Oscar the lovable and sarcastic slob and Felix the compulsive neat freak and hypochondriac. Their clash of temperaments ignites the evening’s comic fireworks.

The play opens with a poker game in Oscar’s New York City apartment. The five players toss barbed banter around, casually insulting each other and Oscar’s messy ways as the game’s host. The scene should be a rapid-fire cascade of laughs but at the Northlight the exchanges lack sizzle and comic timing. A few of the lines stimulated laughs from the opening night audience because the dialogue is so funny it can survive a flat delivery. But the first minutes of the play remain uneasy.

Things pick up upon the entrance of Felix, one of the regular poker players and a man in an emotional tailspin, suddenly on his own because his wife couldn’t stand his neurotic ways any more. Oscar insists Felix remain in the apartment as his roommate, setting up the comic tensions that fuel the rest of the play.

Dan Zeff’s Stage and Cinema review of THE ODD COUPLE at Northlight in Skokie (Chicago)

Wendt and Kazurinsky are roughly the same age (at 64 and 62 years old respectively). Grapey is 48, and the age gap between him and Kazurinsky is noticeable. But the pair still plays off each other nicely, especially in the terrific comic dinner party scene involving a pair of saucy English sisters who live in Oscar’s building and seem open to a little action. Oscar envisions a sexual bonanza from the young ladies but the starchy Felix wants no part of any erotic pursuits. Much hilarity ensures as Felix reduces the females to tears with his self-pity over his failed marriage.

The Northlight production comes in at a tight two hours, partly because the production compresses the three acts into two, eliminating an intermission. Also, I think a few lines were deleted from the original script, for no recognizable reason. But in general the glories of Simon’s comic dialogue remain intact.

Grapey does a nice Jack Klugman turn as the gruff and cynical Oscar and Kazurinsky gives the skittish Felix some depth, turning a potential cartoon character into a figure of recognizable humanity. Felix may be silly but the man is still in pain and Kazurinsky neatly balances the farcical with the realistic. Both get considerable assistance from Katherine Keberlein and Molly Glynn as the giggly English girls. It’s only when the play reverts to the poker game scenes that the comic momentum descends drastically.

Dan Zeff’s Stage and Cinema review of THE ODD COUPLE at Northlight in Skokie (Chicago)

Director B. J. Jones deserves much credit for whipping the production into decent shape after Wendt’s late departure. I suspect that nobody involved with the show got much sleep in the week before the opening night. Regrettably, Jones is unable to build a comic fire under the poker scenes. Jack Magaw designed the credible apartment interior that fits functionally on the Northlight thrust stage. Rachel Laritz designed the costumes which credibly reflect the mid 1960’s ambience of the show. JR Lederle designed the lighting and Andrew Hansen the sound, which presumably included selecting the 1960’s pop music hits that form the production’s aural background.

photos by Michael Brosilow

The Odd Couple
Northlight Theatre
9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie
ends on December 16, 2012
for tickets, call 847.673.6300 or visit Northlight Theatre

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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