The Arts Club Theatre Company production of The Odd Couple is an agreeable little comedy that is made even more agreeable by the performances of this talented cast.
While it may not sound like the most ringing endorsement, the dictionary defines agreeable as “enjoyable and pleasurable” and it somehow seems fitting for a play that was written nearly a half century ago.
With the idea of two men living together as a married couple a mere glimmer in a Greenwich Village drag queen’s eye, Neil Simon’s 1965 pre-Stonewall play would no doubt have had audiences rolling in the aisles at the very idea. And while Simon’s play is just as much about friendship, many of its laughs are intended to come from watching as Oscar and Felix takes on the roles of a married couple (“Getting a clear picture on Channel 2 is not my idea of whoopee”).
Today, watching two dudes fall into a routine of “married” life is a little stale, what with bromances that push the limits and (gasp) real-life marriages between two guys. No longer pushing that particular envelope today, Simon’s play resonates as a comedy about friendship, something that Director John Murphy acknowledges in his program notes. And here that friendship line relies heavily on the chemistry between its two leads, their comedic timing and in Murphy’s world of Oscar and Felix, some very fun physical stuff as well.
When the Arts Club first announced this particular show as part of its 50th anniversary season, it did seem like an odd choice (no pun intended) but my opinion changed when the cast was announced with Andrew McNee and Robert Moloney in the lead roles. Physically the two are perfect for the roles, but for anyone that knows their work, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine them as Oscar and Felix. And these two don’t disappoint. McNee makes the most of the slovenly and brash Oscar and Moloney is a wiry and appropriately up-tight Felix. They genuinely look like they are having fun together and as the evening progresses and friendships are tested, there is a genuine bond between the two.
But while McNee and Moloney are the show’s stars, the supporting cast of characters is equally talented. The quartet (Josh Drebit, Joel Wirkkunen, Alec Willows and Cavan Cunningham), who help support Simon’s exploration of male friendships, take on distinct characterizations that are immediately identifiable and of surprising depth despite their relatively short stage time. Alec Burrows is particularly funny as Roy who has one of the best character voices you’ll find on a stage anywhere. Director Murphy uses the quartet to great effect on a couple of occasions, including a couple of very funny scenes early in the show.
Sasa Brown and Kate Dion-Richard are simply hilarious as the two Pigeon sisters who make a short but very memorable visit from their apartment upstairs. And while some of the double entendres are a little musty, you can’t help but giggle along with them.
David Roberts gives a realistic New York apartment. Given its size, rents must have been a heck of a lot more affordable than the Manhattan of today, but it gives director Murphy space that he takes complete advantage of through the play.
Despite a couple of ideas that don’t quite work the way they would have a half century ago, it isn’t surprising that there continues to be a litany of remakes, re-imaginings and revivals of this agreeable little comedy. In fact, as the Arts Club brings its own version to life on stage, we also hear rumours of yet another remake starring Matthew Perry as Oscar Madison coming to television in 2014.
By Neil Simon. Directed by John Murphy. On stage at the Arts Club Theatre Company Stanley Theatre through February 23, 2014. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.