Comedy can be tough. Jokes either work or they don’t, references can be missed, and physical gags can fail miserably in the wrong hands. But it gets worse: humour goes through trends and changes over time. What was funny in the ’90s may not be funny today due to reliance on topical humour or another dated aspect. Keeping all this in mind, it takes a talented writer to craft something that stays funny over time. Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is one example; Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ is another. Although it’s only been fifty years since its first run, Neil Simon’s ‘The Odd Couple’ can be added to the list.
The hilarious story of Felix and Oscar’s tumultuous time together hit the stage in 1967, became a hit movie, transferred onto television for five years in the ’70s, had a sequel in 1998, and was revived on Broadway in 2005. Evidently, there is just something about the play that keeps viewers wanting more. Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre mounted a wildly successful production of the play in 2008 and revives it (and the two lead actors) in this 2011 version. I didn’t see the 2008 play, but I can testify that this one is great.
Albert Schultz as messy Oscar and Diego Matamoros as neat freak Felix are a comedic dream team. Whether they’re shouting furiously across the room to each other or sharing a tender moment, the two have undeniable chemistry. Neither hogs the spotlight. Instead, they opt for balance and teamwork over individual performance. The circle of friends (Derek Boyes, Kevin Bundy, Oliver Dennis, and Michael Hanrahan) who play a weekly game of poker with Felix and Oscar function in the same way. It’s an ensemble in which each player gets his time to shine. However, the two female characters, the ever so British Pidgeon sisters, seemed to be competing with each other, with Michelle Monteith outshining her partner Raquel Duffy. Was it an intentional comment on how differently men and women interact, or just a case of one actor outperforming the other? It’s unlikely we’ll ever know. The important thing is the Pidgeon sisters were, on the whole, a welcome addition to the testosterone fuelled play.
But how does the humour hold up? Neil Simon is a fan of wit, wordplay, and character clash humour over today’s reliance on referential jokes. His approach definitely holds up fifty years later. The crowd giggled throughout the show and howled with laughter a few times. Director Stuart Hughes also did a nifty job of adding in physical comedy only implied in the script, such as a hilarious four-minute sequence of Felix fastidiously setting the table in preparation for a ridiculously planned out dinner party.
Director Hughes anchors the production well. Everything flows smoothly, the casting was almost pitch perfect, the apartment set was just detailed enough, and the humour still got belly laughs half a century after it was written. Everything comes together in just the right way. It’s easy to see why Soulpepper chose to revive this particular production over the many others they could have chosen.
The Odd Couple is a guaranteed great night out with friends, family, or both. Funny, tender, and moving, the play deserves its status as a modern classic, and Soulpepper’s production does a fantastic job of maintaining its reputation.
All pictures courtesy of Soulpepper Theatre