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Partners

"The Odd Couple" was an amusing play, but this clever knockoff is really funny. No surprise, since Emmy nominee Allan Katz's credits include "Laugh-In," "All in the Family," "MASH" and "Roseanne." This premiere production boasts a uniformly good cast and production.

“The Odd Couple” was an amusing play, but this clever knockoff is really funny. No surprise, since Emmy nominee Allan Katz’s credits include “Laugh-In,” “All in the Family,” “MASH” and “Roseanne.” This premiere production boasts a uniformly good cast and production.

The partners of the title are two best friends whose warehouse shop in New York’s garment district sells to the rag trade: cheap designer knockoffs for cheap customers.

Norm (Alan Rosenberg) is a foul-mouthed, loudmouth slob with a desk that looks like a landfill and a wardrobe that consists of maybe three baggy T-shirts. The first three lines of the play are his, and they are “Fuck,” “Fuck” and “Fuck,” in that order. Norm uses the word throughout the show in every line and in every form, from adjective to dangling participle, but the blue-rinse crowd seemed to have no problem with it, moving from muffled titters to belly laughs in five minutes.

Partner Jack (Vyto Ruginis) is a gentleman, but not Felix-prissy. His clothing and grammar are impeccable, his desk is neat, he takes salads to snack on at Knicks games.

He leaves for a month’s vacation in Europe to find himself, and returns two years later as Jackie. But his extended absence and new presence threaten to end his 20-year friendship and failing business partnership with Norm.

There are some obvious jokes but no cheap shots, and when Jack’s dream of designing originals runs into Norm’s nightmare of failing, the clash leads to an unexpected and touching denouement.

Katz has written some wise and insightful observations for Norm and Jack about human nature and the need for partners of any description to reconcile the inevitable tensions that spring from their differences. But even the more sober moments are sprinkled with one-liners, still funny but maybe kinder and gentler.

Rosenberg plays Norm to type as a take-no-prisoners New Yorker with a heart of gabardine. Sometimes too bombastic and occasionally difficult to understand — possibly because of a cold — his timing and takes are first-rate, as are his pronominal tour de force (“he was/you were”) and reluctant admission of vulnerability.

Ruginis, normally cast as a tough guy, is excellent as both the diffident, nice Jack and the newly minted, confident Jackie.

As their secretary, Jennifer Flynn provides the perfect foil for the two partners, especially Norm. No matter how vulgar he gets, she remains wide-eyed and seemingly loopy. She totters around the stage in four-inch heels and an approximation of a skirt, finds his lost papers and prepares to write down a message from an irate customer by asking innocently in a high-pitched voice, “You want me to tell him to do what to himself?”

Bill Saluga and Eve Sigall emerge from the cutting room from time to time as echt ILGWU workers from another era, providing even comedy, as does Rich Duva as a rival manufacturer.

Nick Embree’s two-story loft set lined with racks of garments is a winner. Zane Busby’s fast-paced direction pulls it all together.

What makes the show particularly endearing is that the characters seem to expand from two dimensions to almost three. Granted the change is parachuted into the last scene, but there’s something to be said about a comedy that can talk about fear without sounding too hokey.

Producer Bill Haber hopes to take “Partners” to New York, either on or Off Broadway.

Partners

Delaware Theater Company, Delaware; 389 Seats; $43 Top

  • Production: A Delaware Theater production by special arrangement with Ostar Enterprises of a play in two acts by Allan Katz. Directed by Zane Busby.
  • Crew: Sets, Nick Embree; costumes, Millie B. Hiibel; lighting and sound, Shannon Zura; stage manager, Djuana M. Strauch. Opened Sept. 18, 2004; reviewed Sept. 22. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.
  • Cast: Tony DeLuca - Rich Duva Cynthia - Jennifer Flynn Norm - Alan Rosenberg Jack - Vyto Ruginis Louie - Bill Saluga Mrs. Epstein - Eve Sigall