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Article updated: 11/27/2012 5:46 PM

Northlight's 'Odd Couple' comes up aces

By Barbara Vitello

Some things about Northlight Theatre's revival of "The Odd Couple" were never in doubt.

First, that Neil Simon's 1965 comedy about a pair of middle-aged, divorced pals sharing a New York City apartment continues to delight. The laughter that accompanied the opening-night performance of director BJ Jones' thoroughly enjoyable production made that abundantly clear.

Second, Jones' first-rate ensemble possesses the comedic chops to sell this amusingly anachronistic show about a man adrift who finds safe harbor with his polar opposite. This despite some last-minute cast shuffling that resulted from the loss of co-star George Wendt five days before the first preview. Wendt, who was to play Oscar Madison opposite friend and former Second City colleague Tim Kazurinsky's Felix Ungar, experienced chest pains Oct. 28, and subsequent heart bypass surgery sidelined Wendt for the rest of the run.

Fortunately, Jones had an ace up his sleeve in Marc Grapey. Originally slated to play Murray the cop, Grapey took over as Oscar, while Peter DeFaria -- having created an entirely different kind of police officer in the world premiere of Keith Huff's "A Steady Rain" -- stepped into the role of the kindly patrolman.

Revised by the playwright several times in the 47 years since it premiered, the play -- which spawned a hit film starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon and a TV sitcom with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall -- remains wedded to a bygone era. Steeped in nostalgia, "The Odd Couple" nevertheless has a timeless appeal. Underscoring its characters' affectionate jibes is an ever-resonant message about the enduring power of friendship and how it can help steady us as we navigate life's rough currents.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the often prickly relationship between Grapey's sociable slob Oscar and Kazurinsky's neatnik Felix, who moves in with Oscar after Felix's wife kicks him out after 12 years of marriage.

Grapey's and Kazurinsky's savvy performances suggest the intuition these men have for what makes each other tick is spot-on. With his wry delivery and effortless timing, Grapey deftly balances concern with exasperation. He even injects Oscar with a touch of menace tempered with humor (for which Grapey has a distinct flair) after Felix spoils their double-date with a pair of leggy British birds. At the same time, he reveals Oscar's vulnerability, suggesting that bachelorhood isn't as carefree as his friends imagine.

As for Kazurinsky, he not only makes Felix's fussiness endearing, but also he finds the underlying pathos that inspires the theatrics of a man whose intransigence is rooted in a deeply held fear of change and an inability to see himself as anything but a family man.

The genuine affection between these mismatched yet complementary roommates is echoed in Jones' funny, compassionate, well-cast production.

Exasperating as Felix is, penny-pinching Vinnie (William Dick), sharp-tongued Speed (a nicely irascible turn from Phil Ridarelli), long-suffering accountant Roy (Bruce Jarchow) and DeFaria's endearing Murray genuinely care about their fussbudget friend.

Rounding out the cast is the winning combination of Katherine Keberlein and Molly Glynn, who are terrific as the absolutely fabulous Pigeon sisters Gwendolyn and Cecily, who have some unresolved marital issues of their own.

As expected, Jones' cast lands the jokes and sells the shtick. But what makes this show special is the humanity that the actors bring to their roles as storm-tossed middle-aged men who get from each other the strength they need to persevere.

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