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Chicago by John Olson

The Odd Couple
Northlight Theatre

The Odd Couple
Marc Grapey, Molly Glynn, Tim Kazurinsky and Katherine Keberlein
When this production was announced last spring, it became one of the more anticipated events of the fall season for its celebrity casting of TV stars George Wendt and Tim Kazurinsky. Wendt, of course, is the better known of those two actors, having starred as Norm in the hit TV series "Cheers" for 11 seasons; Kazurinsky put in three seasons on "Saturday Night Live" from 1981-1984. When Wendt checked into a Chicago hospital for chest pains just five days before the first preview of The Odd Couple (and ultimately received a coronary bypass), the show's star power was reduced by half. Still, those who remember Kazurinsky from SNL and have seen him around town since then (an alum of Chicago's Second City comedy theater, he returned here after he left SNL) have been interested to see him take on a leading role on a local stage. Last Spring, he made well-received supporting performances in Chicago Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream as Quince and Drury Lane's Hairspray as Wilbur.

Kazurinsky's star turn here is no disappointment—the role of neurotic Felix Ungar is a perfect match to his nervous/nerdy SNL persona and he gives the role a take distinct from the best-known predecessors in the role. Where Tony Randall's TV Felix was prissy and Jack Lemmon's movie Felix anxiety-ridden, Kazurinsky's Ungar is pure OCD. His performance feels very organic and naturally funny. There's no attitude of superiority in Kazurinsky's characterization—his Felix seems genuinely obsessed with cleanliness and even a little apologetic about it, but obsessed nonetheless. Along with sharp, on-target comic timing that lands the many laugh lines Neil Simon has given Felix, Kazurinsky makes Felix an empathetic rather than pathetic or arrogant guy. Physically, his movements and gestures are always on the mark and completely integrated with the character.

As the only one of the two initially advertised stars to make it on stage, Kazurinsky has a natural advantage over Marc Grapey as Oscar in gaining audience interest and empathy. Even so, Grapey (originally, Wendt's understudy) makes a likable Oscar. He comes off as a believable and very regular guy—not nearly as disgusting in his sloppiness as TV's Klugman or the movie's Matthau. In fact, the hallmark of B.J. Jones' direction and supporting cast's performances is their easygoing approach to the piece. They know they don't have to push to land Simon's many gags—they let the still-funny lines work and just flow from the clearly defined characters. In making it look so easy, they belie what a well-written and honest comedy this classic really is.

The top-drawer supporting cast includes two sublimely silly performances by Katherine Keberlein and Molly Glynn as the sexy British Pigeon sisters, along with Phil Ridarelli, Peter DeFaria, Bruce Jarchow and William Dick as the poker buddies. Oscar's Upper West Side Manhattan apartment is created brightly by scenic designer Jack Magaw while Rachel Laritz's costumes are credible for the mid-sixties era in which the play was written and is set. Jones gives a tip of his hat to the mod '60s (the era of sexy English "birds" like the Pigeon sisters) by using Petula Clark's "It's a Sign of the Times" as exit music.

Jones and his production team neither update nor make a big deal of the era. While some of the lines are dated (including my favorite, that Felix is so anxious he wears a seat-belt at a drive-in movie), the comedy still feels remarkably fresh. This production is an unpretentious and respectful reading of this 47-year-old comedy that provides a good opportunity for revisiting it, but just as importantly, an occasion for welcoming Tim Kazurinsky to the ranks of the top-tier working actors who call Chicago home.

The Odd Couple will be performed at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, Illinois, through December 9, 2012. For ticket information, visit www.northlight.org, the box office, or call 847-673-6300.


Photo: Michael Brosilow

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-- John Olson



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