THE ODD COUPLE by Neil Simon, directed by Stuart Hughes (Soulpepper). At Young Centre (55 Mill). To April 19. $5-$65. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNN
Neil Simon’s 1965 play The Odd Couple was a smash Broadway hit, spawned a long-running TV series and even a gender-switched version.
But these days, there’s something too even about The Odd Couple.
The story is familiar to most: slob Oscar invites anal-compulsive Felix to live with him when Felix’s marriage falls apart.
Good friends though they are, opposites of this sort don’t attract.
Simon’s one-liners – sometimes funny though usually predictable – take precedence over character. I’d say that in terms of three-dimensionality, Simon characters get as far as one and a half most of the time.
So why see this show? Because it demonstrates what a fine ensemble Soulpepper has become over the past decade. Albert Schultz (Oscar) and Diego Matamoros (Felix) share a long-time history both on and offstage, and it pays off in the warmth as well as the anger of their characters’ relationship. They’re a married couple in many ways, and here that concept pays off.
The truthfulness of relationships extends to their four poker cronies. Derek Boyes, Kevin Bundy, Oliver Dennis and Michael Hanrahan may be drawn in simple strokes by the playwright, but they create a group who you believe care for one another.
Stuart Hughes’s direction keeps the jokes moving briskly, and sometimes you do laugh at the barrage of sitcom material.
There’s less comic drive when Simon introduces sisters Gwendolyn and Cecily, neighbours who are pretty open about their interest in Felix and Oscar.
Krystin Pellerin and Amy Rutherford do what they can with the thin material, but the scenes come off as shaky and uninvolving.
Part of the problem is the rhythm, but mostly it’s the writing.