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A CurtainUp Review
The Odd Couple (female version)
By Elyse Sommer
Oscar and Felix are names that have become part of our cultural vocabulary. They are, of course the pivots of The Odd Couple, one of Neil Simon's many "cash cow" hits, which in 1965 won four Tony awards and seeded a movie and a long-running television series.
While mention of Oscar and Felix brings visions of Tony Randall and Jack Klugman to mind, in the 1980s Mr. Simon gave in to requests to allow female productions of the play. Being the perfectionist he is, he did not leave matters in the hands of others but reworked the play so that it would retain its structure but with his characters rewritten to be "real women not women behaving as men as played by women." Since that version's Broadway debut, starring Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno, quite a number of productions of this all female Odd Couple have been mounted.
The latest edition comes from a brand-new company, aptly formed by two women, Jodie Bentley and Kristina Latour. The two-week showcase provides these theatrical entrepreneurs with two juicy roles (Bentley as Olive Madison and Latour as Florence Unger). It is their way of supporting worthy causes from the proceeds, in this case Gilda's Club in New York City.
Since the fussy, prissy Unger has always been the play's showiest part, it's not surprising that Latour's Florence evokes the heartiest laughs. You have only to look at her face alternating between demure femininity and maniacally Mrs. Clean aggression to burst into giggles. The rest of the cast lends competent support, but the funniest moments come from Mr. Simon's best character revision -- the English Pigeon Sisters now the divish Costazuela Brothers, Jesus (Edward Kassar) and Manolo (Jason O'Connell) formerly of Barcelona where they worked for Iberian Airlines. Their arrival as dinner guests at Olive and Florence's apartment with flowers and candy and somewhat shaky English, is the evening's highlight. To give chapter and verse, a sampling:
Jesus: I hope you like the candies. They are no good.
Olive: They're no good?
Jesus: Si. The candy is no good
Manolo: Si. Is very chewy.
Olive: You mean nougat?
The candy matter cleared up, Olive says she'll put the flowers in water. Manolo declares "Just the flowers. Candy in water is no good" to which Jesus adds "I thought it was nou-gat." And when Olive graciously says "Well, the flowers are certainly beautiful. I feel like Miss America" Jesus agrees "I feel the same, I miss Spain sometimes."
Alas, while Simon's Costazuela brothers hold up, the Pantheon production is hobbled by his less enduring revisions, notably the raison d'être for Olive and Florence's weekly get-togethers with four pals. Catering to more feminine sensibilities Simon opted to have the friends meet for a game of Trivial Pursuit instead of poker. Unfortunately, he chose a fad game, which though still played, dates the play. If Mr. Simon wants this version of his forty-five-year-old hit to have a life beyond amateur theatricals, he needs to put on his famous "doc" hat and give his women characters a more credible reason to get together -- maybe a stock buying club, or why not poker?