Kevin Bundy, Oliver Dennis, Diego Matamoros, Derek Boyes, Albert Schultz, Michael Hanrahan
Reviewed by James Karas
The Odd Couple is an early product of the Neil Simon Comedy Industry. More than a successful and Tony award-winning Broadway play in 1965, it became a funny movie, a successful television series and, in the end, a national brand. That’s what you call success.
For its fall season, Soulpepper is reviving its 2008 production of the play and the laughs come with almost timed regularity and increasing hilarity. It is a very funny play with “real” people and a plot that will not strain your attention span or your credulity.
Six men get together regularly to play poker in a New York apartment but something happens to one of them to keep them busy and us laughing for a couple of hours. Felix (Diego Matamoros) has been thrown out by his wife. He is a comically weird eccentric with traits like these: he is a fanatic neatnik, a perfectionist cook, will not drink any alcoholic beverage (sips Pepto-Bismal on New Year’s Eve), and is generally neurotic about everything. He is so nuts, his friends fear that he may commit suicide because his wife could no longer put up with him.
His friend Oscar (Albert Schultz) is a gruff sports writer, an inveterate slob, a tough guy who does not know what punctuality and neatness mean. Well, Felix will move in with Oscar and we all know that the result will be comically disastrous.
Schultz and Matamoros make you feel that they can handle these roles in their sleep. Perhaps, but however hard or easy it may be, they are both funny, humane and a pleasure to watch.
Their poker-playing friends are reasonably well-defined characters who are given good one-liners to add to the laughter. Kevin Bundy is a tie-wearing accountant and he is mostly straight. Oliver Dennis is a policeman who is answerable to his wife and he is quite funny. Derek Boyes is Vinny, a man who constantly looks at his watch and will go to Florida in July because it is cheap. Michael Hanrahan is the rude and grumpy Speed who never takes off his hat.
Oscar invites two English sisters, Gwendolyn (Raquel Duffy) and Cecily (Michelle Monteith), for dinner because he wants female companionship. He goes to get drinks and Felix tells them his life story, reducing the two women to tears.
Stuart Hughes does a fine job directing the play. There are no glitches except for a minor complaint about accents. Most of the actors attempt some kind of recognizable New York accent and they either cannot do it or keep losing it. It is completely unnecessary. Keep to your Ontario accent (whatever that may be) and stay away from fancy New-Yorkese.
The situation in the play is eventually resolved. Felix moves out, Oscar becomes (maybe) a bit neater and most importantly the friendship and the poker game are saved. Life should be like that.
The Odd Couple by Neil Simon opened on September 23 and continues until November 19, 2011 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 866-8666. www.soulpepper.ca