By Jordan Wright (Photo/Keith Waters)
Neil Simon’s long-running and ever popular play “The Odd Couple” has had more incarnations than The Smashing Pumpkins. First there was the Broadway premiere in 1965. Art Carney of “The Honeymooners” was the obsessive-compulsive neat freak Felix Ungar, and Walter Matthau played the slovenly, devil-may-care Oscar Madison. Jack Klugman later replaced Matthau for a TV adaptation. In 1968, Matthau was brought back for the film version with Jack Lemmon, and the two reprised their roles in 1998 for “The Odd Couple II.”
In the 1980s, another TV version came onto the landscape — “The New Odd Couple” featuring two black actors, Ron Glass and Demond Wilson. And — drum roll, please — in the current television reincarnation, Matthew Perry plays Oscar. People just can’t seem to get enough of this disparate duo.
In the background of these many productions was Simon’s female version written for the stage. Authored in 1985, he cloned the personalities of Oscar and Felix, breathing new life into them as Olive Madison (Oscar) and Florence Ungar (Felix). The play too is set in 1985, a time of women’s liberation and the re-examination both of traditional female roles and changing sexual mores. It all seems so old hat now.
I must confess that the stuff of American sitcoms is not really my cup of tea. Friends insulting friends in the most jovial sort of way and gleefully backstabbing them when they leave the room are not my ideas of charming and witty humor. I didn’t like “The Three Stooges” either, if that tells you something. But if “The Golden Girls” gave you belly laughs, then this will be right up your alley.
Florence is in the throes of a divorce and Olive has already been there, done that when she takes her in as a roommate. The unhappy duo is oil and water, struggling to maintain their friendship through the hard times and hysteria, of which there is nearly too much to bear. Are we bonding yet?
In addition to Olive (Gayle Nichols-Grimes) and Florence (Jennifer Lyons Pagnard), there are Mickey (Michelle Fletcher), Sylvie (Kat Sanchez), Renee (Elizabeth Replogle) and Vera (Natalie Fox). Later on, we meet Olive’s two hot-to-trot Spanish neighbors, brothers Jesus (Brendan Quinn) and Manolo (Philip Krzywicki) — one sloppy, one neat — what a surprise.
All in all, the cast throws out some lively, if stale, one-liners: “Everything you do irritates me;” “I can’t even have dirty dreams! You clean them up;” and “She’s changed our nice game into the Christian Science Reading Room.” It keeps the audience happy and the actors working.
Weighing this production on its merits, I give kudos to set designer MYKE for creating a believable 1980s era living room for Olive’s Manhattan apartment, costume designer Ceci Albert, who has dug deep into the wardrobe trunks for plenty of polyester and pearls for the six women in the cast, and note another fine performance by Michelle Fletcher, this time as the tough-talking cop.
The Odd Couple (Female Version) runs through May 16 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St. For tickets and information call the box office at 703-683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.