At Little Mountain Gallery until December 8
Pay What You Can every night. Suggested: $20.
Posted November 29, 2013
The opening scene of this Main Street Theatre production found all of us on opening night tightly packed into a space that makes ‘intimate’ seem barn-like by comparison. How intimate? When you enter the theatre, you step right out onto the stage so don’t, for heaven’s sake, come late. (Curtain is at 7:30. Doors open at 7). Cheek by jowl with everyone else, we laughed our heads off.
Oscar (Mike Wasko), Roy (Josh Drebit), Murray (Kyle Jespersen), Vinnie (Sebastian Kroon) and Speed (Michael P. Northey) have gathered at Oscar’s messy apartment for their weekly game of poker. But where is Felix? Turns out his wife has just kicked him out for good. Knowing Felix as they do, they expect the worst: he’s going to off himself. So when Felix (Ryan Beil) turns up all mopey, at first the guys try to pretend they know nothing but eventually pandemonium breaks out. What follows is a chase scene in an area no bigger than a Yaletown balcony. Under Stephen Malloy’s, direction this is one of the funniest opening scenes ever. Really, I was wiping my eyes.
These young actors are fresh and frisky even though they’re dealing with a vintage Neil Simon script that premiered on Broadway in 1965 followed shortly by the film, starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in 1968. From 1970-1975 Tony Randall was Felix to Jack Klugman’s Oscar in the TV series. In other words, it all happened and was over before most of them (all of them?) were born.
For some years it was hip to dump on Neil Simon, calling his plays clever but superficial. I had forgotten how funny Simon’s dialogue is. The Odd Couple is, I suppose, still superficial but dammit, it’s hilarious.
Wasko and Beil, the odd couple of the title, do most of the funny business but the support they get from the rest of the cast is fantastic. Drebit wears a Don Cherry-style plaid sports coat that’s two sizes too small and with his little glasses and his serious/nervous attitude, he’s a hoot. Kroon’s henpecked character is always worried about getting home on time and Kroon plays him like a kid who’s afraid he’s going to be grounded by his Mommy. Covered in tattoos and looking very biker punk, Northey keeps his character’s short fuse barely contained while Jespersen, whose character is a cop, is the ‘decent’, ‘caring’ guy but who, as a result of his job, jumps to conclusions that include guns and overdoses.
I don’t remember there being complaints about the stereotyping of the two women in the cast back in the day but the women’s liberation movement hadn’t really caught fire yet. But Simon isn’t trashing all women, just these two English birds Gwendolyn (Lindsey Angell) and her sister Cecily (Melanie Reich) that live in the same building as Oscar. Angell and Reich appear in little cocktail dresses, big hair and lots of makeup. They giggle and titter away, their characters eventually precipitating more trouble than there already is between Oscar and Felix.
Wasko and Beil are so well matched as Oscar – big, loud and slovenly, and Felix – neurotic, passively aggressive and freakishly neat. Wasko, of course, is the straight man to Beil whose loopy look can so quickly turn into an ‘if-looks-could-kill’ glare. Together they keep this production (with two intermissions) moving along so quickly, it’s all over in a flash. Barely time to drink your wine.
This Main Street Theatre production is quite a deviation from this company’s usual edgy fare like Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Sam Shepard’s Lie of the Mind and True West, David Mamet’s American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross. But the success of The Odd Couple is a testament to this young company’s reach. And a testament to its commitment to Vancouver audiences is its Pay What You Can policy – every night. This policy is drawing a younger audience who might pay the suggested twenty bucks if they can but who will also visit the bar where the modest cost of a drink doesn’t mean you have to take out a loan.
I fondly remember the stage play and the film from the 60s; my daughter remembers the 70s TV series; and my granddaughter (16) was an Odd Couple newbie. We laughed in equal measure – that is to say, all evening.