On Theater: Simon's 'Odd Couple' still hilarious

Both Neil Simon's hit comedy "The Odd Couple" and the Costa Mesa Playhouse were born in the same year — 1965. But it took them 45 years to find each other.

Now, as the kickoff entry in a playhouse season designed to be audience-friendly, "The Odd Couple" certainly qualifies. It's undoubtedly Simon's funniest play in a lifetime filled with them, and it inspired both a great movie and a memorable television series.

And if it can elicit chuckles from someone who's directed both the original and extra-crispy (mostly female) versions, as well as witnessed at least a dozen other variations, it's done its job. Director Michael Serna's revival in Costa Mesa certainly has accomplished this.

As virtually everyone on the planet is aware, "The Odd Couple" depicts the pairing of two buddies — one divorced, the other about to be — in the former's living quarters. The trouble (and comedic blessing) is, one's a complete slob while the other could give Martha Stewart lessons in tidiness.

Don't expect anything new in the Costa Mesa production, just appreciate the tried and true, which is elevated not only by the two dissimilar principals but also by a fine supporting cast, including two of the finest and funniest Pigeon sisters to grace a local stage.

The role of Oscar Madison, the slovenly sportswriter, calls for a blunt, bombastic performer, and JP Sarro is just what Doc Simon ordered. The burly Sarro dominates the stage, both physically and vocally, rattling the rafters in a splendid performance which, thankfully, is modulated when required.

The contrasting Felix Unger, a part composed of neatnik tics and exposed nerve endings, is beautifully rendered by Shaun Leslie Thomas, who stands his ground admirably and gives as good as he gets from Oscar. His weepy scene with the "coo coo Pigeon" sisters is a particular scream.

Of the four visiting poker players, Jeff Bickel stands out as the bow-tied nebbish Vinnie, who visits Miami in the summer for the cheap hotel rates. Had Thomas not auditioned, Bickel probably would have made an excellent Felix.

Travis Stolp also is quite strong as Murray, the concerned cop, while Ed Chen and Stefan Marchand lend fine support to complete the contingent of bickering comrades.

Then there are Darcy Porter and Brigette O'Leary as the English women in an upstairs apartment whom Oscar invites for a "double date" dinner. Both actresses embellish their roles with inspired giggling and spot-on accents that amplify their innate sexiness.

Director Serna also designed the suitable apartment setting, which must be alternately messed up and rendered spotless. Ian Foreman's fine lighting effects and John McQuay's terrific sound programming of Sixties favorites (the TV "Odd Couple" theme doesn't arrive until the end) further enhance the production.

There probably won't be a playhouse patron who isn't familiar with "The Odd Couple" in one incarnation or another, but they'll be thankful for the memories after this excellent laugh-filled production.

If You Go

What: "The Odd Couple"

Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 29

Cost: $18 to $16

Call: (949) 650-5269

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