By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Judging by the names on the Playhouse marquee, the draw of the show would be Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, stars of TV's The Odd Couple, reunited again in Coconut Grove after charming audiences last season in The Sunshine Boys. Klugman conquered throat cancer, but it left him with a permanent growl, which he uses to good effect. Randall is on break from artistic-director duties at his acclaimed National Actors Theater (now presenting Matthew Broderick in Night Must Fall). Both these stars are crowd pleasers, appealing to watch, and expert performers, though neither can be accused of brilliance. I'm not sure brilliance is what audiences expect from them anyway. As long as they continue to deliver the chemistry they shared as Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, will anyone even care that they are not challenging themselves?
For my money the real treat in the production (directed by Whitehead, the long-time artistic guru of Canada's Shaw Festival) is the rest of the cast, all consummate pros, particularly Alison Fraser and David Staller as the pixilated stars of The Cruise of the Dodo. Both Broadway thoroughbreds are delightful to watch. The same goes for Gibson Frazier, who plays Adam Adam. Because of one plot twist, Frazier's character is struck by a bad case of stuttering and the actor performs much of the role with facial expression rather than dialogue. He manages to convey emotions for which there are indeed no words.
James Noone's delicious set, with its elaborately furnished deep blue-and-purple ship decks and staterooms, and Kirk Bookman's lighting deserve as much attention as the stars. Noel Taylor's costumes are simply elegant. Director Whitehead seems to have the most fun, however, whether he's orchestrating a pantomime conversation for Adam and Navratilova (in which Navratilova responds in words to musical measures that Adam plays on the piano) or playing Gal, wrinkling his own brow in the manner of a dimwitted schoolboy. Klugman and Randall may be selling the tickets for this show, but it's Whitehead who kept me in my seat.
Written by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Paxton Whitehead. With Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Paxton Whitehead, Alison Fraser, Gibson Frazier, and David Staller. Through May 23. Coconut Grove Playhouse, 3500 Main Hwy, Coconut Grove; 305-442-4000.