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For the past several years, the Kavinoky Theatre has opened its season with an elaborate musical. But this year, they opted to downsize a bit and present a comedy. And although the theater has leaned in the past toward the plays of "British Neil Simon," Alan Ayckbourne, here they opt for the American version. Simon's play, "The Odd Couple," which spawned a film and later a TV series, details how two opposites came to live together.

Stewart Roth, who recently returned to Buffalo, is a wonderful gravel-voiced Oscar Madison.

With his loopy, lopsided grin and lascivious laugh, he's the guy everybody in the office loves, always ready with a beer or a slightly off-color joke. Sometimes spilling, usually slouching, Roth often appears to speak directly to us in the audience, letting us in on the punchline. He is especially effective in the third act, when the roommates' differences crescendo, and the dueling bachelors one-up each other with cigar smoke and Lysol.

Steven Cooper, who plays Felix in this production, has convincingly played a wide range of roles throughout his career -- romantic eleading man, dunce, bad guy, you name it.

But I'm not sure he's Felix, who "wears galoshes and a vest and is the only guy in America with clenched hair."

Although he has some fine moments -- his Gower Champion- meets-Martha Stewart cleaning pantomimes are a highlight, he never goes full-tilt fussy.

The poker buddies, played by Norman Sham, Jack Hunter, Steven Jakiel and Michael Karr, nicely set the tone for the evening from their first prolonged deal. Their comic pacing will no doubt tighten during the run.

When Oscar proposes that he and Felix "spend one evening talking to people with higher voices than us," we meet the randy British Pigeon sisters. Very well played by Eileen Dugan and Lona Geiser (with campy Austin Powers-esque costumes by Donna Massimo), these "girls" start out looking for Mr. Goodbar and end up with Mr. Clean.

The family apartment-turned-bachelor pad by David King features a snazzy lit skyline. How messy is it, pre-Felix?

Enough that some of the senior citizen ladies in the audience were joking about going onstage and tidying up.

The Odd Couple
Rating: ** 1/2
Comedy by Neil Simon, directed by Thomas Martin and starring Stewart Roth and Steven Cooper.
Performances through Oct. 14 in the Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Ave.

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