In order for any interpretation of The Odd Couple to work, there needs to be strong chemistry between the two main leads. Fortunately, the stars of North Coast Repertory Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s legendary comedy have that in spades.
In the summer of 1965, lazy Oscar (Matt Thompson) lives in a Manhattan apartment on Riverside Drive, where he enjoys his carefree life. After finding out that his close friend, the ultra neurotic neat freak Felix (Louis Lotorto) is heartbroken over separating from his wife, Oscar lets his pal become his roommate. Though the two are very close, their contrasting personalities start to get on each others nerves.
The Odd Couple largely succeeds, because of the performances from Thompson and Lotorto. Thompson seems to have endless energy and gives his character a lot of confidence, which is something I don’t usually associate with previous portrayals of Oscar. Thompson’s depiction is so clear and three dimensional that he quickly puts his own stamp on the sportswriter.
Lotorto arguably plays a much more difficult role as Felix. While he is the second main actor, Lotorto only appears for a few minutes in Act I, but quickly builds empathy with his hilariously sad sack interpretation. In Act II, his unbearably uncomfortable reactions to situations that are out of his control at times made my cheeks hurt from laughing so much.
There is a solid ensemble in The Odd Couple, with particularly great work from Bernard X. Kopsho and John Nutten as poker buddies of Oscar and Felix. As Murray, the policeman, Kopsho is over the top fun as an acquaintance whose extremely blunt attitude results in plenty of guffaws. Nutten’s witty line delivery as Speed is excellent, but it is his deadpan reactions to some unusual incidents with Felix that makes him stand out.
Simon’s script still works because there are so many different kinds of jokes ranging from ethnic humor to irreverent absurdness. There are so many memorable gags, that picking a favorite one isn’t easy.
Marty Burnett’s scenic design immediately sets the tone of the show. The living room is extremely messy and filthy, representing Felix’s slobby attitude.
Chris Luessmann’s sound design is clever, especially how he incorporates music to symbolize how Oscar’s apartment has changed. Early on, mellow music plays in the background, but after Felix makes the place nicer, a classic melody pokes fun at the fact that the home has a much more upscale conventional vibe, which bugs Oscar.
Andrew Barnicle’s direction mostly puts emphasis on Simon’s prose, but he does stage a few difficult visual sequences of farce that I’m surprised were attempted on such a small stage. Barnicle pulls these moments off, because he trusts that the cast, especially Thompson and Lotorto, can pull off physical slapstick with panache. They don’t disappoint.
Thompson and Lotorto’s strong teamwork makes The Odd Couple a fun night of entertainment. I hope that this isn’t the last time that these wonderfully well-matched performers work together in San Diego.