I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the Young Centre for a performance of Neil Simon’s the Odd Couple. On the one hand, this is a Soulpepper production, which suggests a high bar of artistic talent. On the other hand, this is a comedy from the 1960s, an era that is rife with misogyny, as the television series Mad Men has so excruciatingly reminded us. I, a thirty-something graduate student and feminist, am perhaps not the target audience for Neil Simon. Would the comedy translate?
Despite my worries, this production is incredibly charming. The play depicts Oscar, an irresponsible and immature divorcé, who cannot clean up after himself and is weeks behind with his alimony payments. When Felix, one of his poker buddies, gets thrown out by his wife, Oscar offers him a place to crash. The rest of the play is about the development of their relationship and the emergence of, as the show programme delights in suggesting, a budding bromance. But the comedy doesn’t arise from anxiety and homophobia about two men living together and resembling a married couple, but from the tension between two people who care about each other yet who are entirely unsuited to living together. It’s about what it means to take responsibility for each other, and for ourselves.
Albert Shultz’s performance as Oscar is excellent, vacillating between his care for Felix and his love of fun at the expense of responsibility, hitting a nice balance between immaturity and compassion. Diego Matamoros as Felix is unexpectedly touching. Matamoros depicts Felix’s sorrow and angst in an incredibly nuanced way, shining a light on both its absurd intensity, and also its endearing profundity. Director Stuart Hughes presents some intense emotions in a comedic frame while refraining from undermining the characters and their situation.
There are some parts of the play that are a bit rough around the edges. The poker scenes are funny, though have a slight forced, choreographed feeling to them, as though each speaker is waiting patiently for his turn to speak which strikes one as a bit overly polite for a drunken Friday night. By contrast, Sarah Wilson and Raquel Duffy are hilarious and refreshing as the Pigeon sisters, neighbours to Felix and Oscar, providing a relief to the comic anxiety of Oscar and Felix’s increasing animosity.
The play doesn’t push any serious boundaries, but it does present an entertaining and compassionate exploration of two men and their attempts to regain their balance and self-possession.
Click Here to read what Kelly had to say about the production last time it played on the Young Centre stage.