We gave it a B
It was the most arranged of marriages: Of course Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick would return to Broadway. Of course they would topline a must-see revival of The Odd Couple, Neil Simon’s well-masticated 1965 two-hander — the basis of every male-bonding comedy written since. And of course the pair would face expectations raised by their stratospherically successful partnership in the 2001 smash The Producers.
Well, as marriages go, it’s fairly happy, if not electric. Lane and director Joe Mantello give our collective memory of Walter Matthau — and the 1968 film — a wide berth. Here, slovenly divorced sportswriter Oscar Madison is no glowering alpha clown. Lane, making smart use of his triumphal frumpiness, fashions Oscar into a pragmatic, prickly Sancho Panza. His Quixote is the fastidious Felix, a neatnik who becomes Oscar’s impromptu roomie — and Lysol-bearing bête noire — when his exasperated wife tosses him out.
The Odd Couple was written before terms like neurotic and compulsive were domesticated for everyday discourse — and long before gender-tweaking neologisms (e.g., metrosexual) took hold. Nowadays, we’d look at a character like Felix as the culmination of a trend or a disease, and that seems to be how Broderick has approached the role. Delivering his lines in strangled basenji yelps, he’s slightly at odds with the energy of the room; sometimes it feels like he wandered in from a Beckett play. This Felix Ungar is a postmodern collage of infuriating particulars, not a living being. It’s an interesting and not entirely successful choice, but it certainly keeps the ghost of Jack Lemmon at bay, for good or ill. It also puts the show entirely in Lane’s hands. (Though Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Brad Garrett has a few scene-stealing moments as poker pal Murray.) In ceding to Broderick’s tics, Lane gives us new avenues of access to a play most of us felt we’d dispensed with in high school. No question, then, who wears the pants in this production.