A role-reversed female version of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” now playing at Mammoth’s Edison Theater. (Photo: Aaron Horowitz/Bluebird Imaging)
Smart, snappy “Odd Couple” not your normal comedy
Can two divorced women live together without driving each other crazy? Perhaps, but in the case of Florence Unger and Olive Madison, probably not. Florence and Olive are, in case you’re scratching your head, are the unlikely, mismatched pair of roommates in the all-female version of Neil Simon’s Tony Award-winning comedy “The Odd Couple,” which opened this week at the Edison Theatre.
First premiering on Broadway in 1965, the characters, originally named Felix and Oscar, were played by Art Carney and Walter Matthau, who reprised his role for the smash hit movie in 1968 opposite Jack Lemmon.
As one might expect, Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre Creative Director Shira Dubrovner decided to shake things up a bit, foregoing the standard version and instead presenting Simon’s 1986 gender-reversing spin on the play opened on Broadway starring Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers..
Set in the 1980s, when the female version was first reinterpreted on Broadway, it’s now Florence who’s driving Olive up a wall. Under the direction of Kevin Worden, and featuring a terrific supporting cast, the already funny script hits the ground running like a New Yorker trying to catch a subway train.
Juliana Olinka paints Florence with neurotic, hypochondriac perfection while Jarrett Smith as Olive channels the slob she’ll never be (that’s why they call it acting. In real life, these character traits are reversed).
More than just the sexes have been changed. Instead of poker, the weekly game is Trivial Pursuit. Fans of the original version will recognize traits of their favorite fellas, now femmes, at the table. Speed, Vinnie, Murray and Roy are now Sylvie, Vera, Mickey and Renee, embodied in an exemplary ensemble performance by Maureen “Mo” Jacoby, Dee DeGioia, Eva Poole-Gilson and Kendra Knight-Horowitz, respectively.
Instead of the Pigeon Sisters, we have the Costazuela Brothers, Manolo and Jesus, carried off by Chuck Scatolini and Worden. Both are consummately charming, yet a little cheeky, with just a pinch of Steve Martin’s and Dan Aykroyd’s Czechoslovakian Playboys sprinkled in for good measure, but not overpowering the scene.
That Simon’s script is already funny right out of the box is a given, but the show requires a cast that can bowl a strike with it, and Worden has cast some smart, snappy and sassy players for the task. If anything, some of the jokes might need some additional leeway for laughs.
With little or no effects, some of the nuances take on more significance. First, both of Florence’s and Olive’s exes are played only via one-sided phone conversations, but it’s not hard to get a sense of them and the emotional tangles in which the two women finds themselves.
And both leads are well delineated in part through Trivial Pursuit, which also serves as an interesting metaphor for their characters and how they look at life … Olive aces anything sports-related, while Florence cleans up, literally and figuratively, on all things related to classic movies.
And I loved the incidental music from the period, with tracks such as Toto’s “Hold the Line” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” juxtaposed against Neal Hefti’s familiar “Odd Couple” theme.
Perhaps the most agreeable part of this show is the show itself. We live in hard times. With a recession still gripping the nation, and our own troubles here at home, there’s nothing quite like a play full of on-the-nose humor and a look at other characters’ problems to provide a couple of hours of welcome escape. Imagine walking through Manhattan on a hot summer day, and ducking into a department store for some much-needed air conditioning.
In this day and age, there’s nothing odd about wanting some relief from life’s tensions, and there’s nothing better than “The Odd Couple” to remind is that laughter is very often the best medicine.
“The Odd Couple” is now playing through Sept. 18 on Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. nightly, and on Sunday at 4 p.m. only. The Edison Theater is located at 100 College Parkway, off Meridian Blvd., across from Cerro Coso College. Tix: $20; Seniors and students $18; group rates are available, and ask about season passes! Call 760.934.6592.
For more information on upcoming events at Edison Theatre visit www.MammothLakesFoundation.org.