The Odd Couple runs at Stage West until April 24

by Tara Merrin

The classic tale of the neurotic neat freak and the slob bachelor is still making audiences laugh after all these years

Perhaps that's the oddest thing about Stage West's production of The Odd Couple - four decades after Neil Simon's play about mismatched roommates Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar debuted on Broadway, it still works.

That's something of a surprise considering the societal changes in the past 40 years. No longer is the character of Felix - a guy intent on having a clean house and gourmet meals, - unheard of. Don't we all know at least one man who can carry on a conversation while circling the room spraying air freshener overhead?

That said, part of the reason for this production's success is that director Jack Booch has made no attempt to update the script. It takes place in the 1960s when macho guys stayed out all night playing poker and women fell hard for men who wore their feelings on their sleeve.

Set entirely in a living room, it is the story of Oscar, a divorced slob, who invites his recently separated poker buddy Felix to move with him.

Soon Felix's obsessive-compulsive behaviour takes over the house, ruining poker night and destroying Oscar's hopes of romancing his neighbour.

Although the story remains strong, this Odd Couple is as entertaining as it is because of the actors who take on the roles made famous by Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the 1968 movie and Tony Randall and Jack Klugman from the 70's TV series.

New York actor Don Sparks' obvious enjoyment of playing Oscar and his excellent comic timing are a delight to watch.

With one-liners like, 'It took me three hours to figure out that FU stood for Felix Ungar,' Sparks generates his share of the laughs opposite the over-emotional Felix, played by Stephen Hair. Best-known for his recurring role as Scrooge in Theatre Calgary's annual presentation of A Christmas Carol, Hair steals the show as the nagging 'wife.'

While some of the jokes are undoubtedly outdated, the message that friendship can survive just about anything still rings true.

Perhaps, this why The Odd Couple continues to impress in 2005.

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