Few American writers have as much currency as Neil Simon, whose plays almost invariably became hits on Broadway and often spawned films and long-running television shows. Simon's most indelible play, the 1965 comedy The Odd Couple, became a pop-culture staple shortly after its Broadway debut. It inspired a 1968 Hollywood movie of the same name, with Jack Lemmon playing the fastidious Felix Unger, and Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison, the slob. ABC turned it into a popular sitcom, followed by an animated series and an African-American version. Then in 1986 Simon created an Odd Couple for women, using the same basic theme (two poorly matched roommates having to put up with one another) but substituting Florence Unger for Felix, and Olive Madison for Oscar. It's a testament to Simon's genius that he can flip the script like that and make it work, according to Clive Worsley, the new artistic director at Town Hall Theatre. Worsley will stage The Odd Couple: Female Version this week at Town Hall, using the same script that Simon penned in 1986 for actresses Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno. He believes it will be a hot ticket for female audiences.
The basic mechanics of the play are the same as the old Odd Couple, said Worsley. You have the neurotic housecleaner and the indolent slacker; Florence getting separated from her husband and having to move in; and a clash of personalities and the inevitable beefs that follow. But in this adaptation, the story has a distinctly feminine slant. After all, women process events differently than men do, especially when the event is a failed marriage. "While on the surface it's very much the same as the male version, it's actually distinctly female in terms of the relationships they're dealing with and their individual struggles," the director explained.
After its Broadway debut, The Odd Couple: Female Version never caught on the way its predecessor did. That's unfortunate, Worsley said: "It doesn't get produced very often, which is curious to me because it's funny, and The Odd Couple itself gets staged a lot." And Worsley's take is particularly funny: He set the play in the 1980s when it was written, so his actresses Sally Clawson (Olive) and Eleanor Reinholdt (Florence) get to wear big hair and shoulder pads. They play Trivial Pursuit, dress like cast members from the Eighties sitcom Designing Women, and make at least one reference to one-calorie NutraSweet Pepsi. Both actresses are great physical comedians with impeccable timing, so they wring all the humor out of Simon's script while revealing the emotional lives of their characters. Worsley knew both of them from his work as an actor and director in the Bay Area — and he solicited them to audition for the parts. As soon as the two began reading together, an odd couple was born. The Odd Couple: Female Version runs March 26 through April 25 at Town Hall Theatre (3535 School St., Lafayette). $18-$32. THTC.org
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