The Odd Couple (Female Version)
by Neil Simon
Directed by Ken Aveline
The Windsor Jesters at L.P. Wilson Community Center in Windsor, CT through March 31
In the mid-1980s, Neil Simon took his smash hit 1965 stage comedy The Odd Couple and put it through the gender blender. The show had already begat a popular film version with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon and a long-running TV series with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. Why not put the high heel on the other foot and make the two beleaguered divorcees women? The resulting Odd Couple (Female Version) ran on Broadway with Oscar Madison becoming Olive (played by Rita Moreno) and Felix Unger becoming Florence (played by Sally Struthers). Instead of swapping names and pronouns, Neil Simon essentially wrote a whole new play keeping the central conceit intact.
The Windsor Jesters have revived this version for their 51st season. Running only through March 31st, one should hustle down to Windsor’s L.P. Wilson Community Center for a fun, laugh-filled comedy of opposites not attracting. For two freshly-single women in their 40s or 50s, the stakes are raised (even if Oscar’s poker games have now been replaced with Trivial Pursuit game night). Although the play doesn’t grapple with the ageism inherent in the dating game, it is fun to see Olive and Florence tackle dating and each other.
Already separated, but still emotionally dependent on her money-sucking husband, Olive’s home has come to resemble her emotional shambles. She hosts gossip-filled game nights and eats out while sending checks to her cad of a former spouse. Enter Florence, a high-strung, needy clean-freak who has both hypochondria and a martyr complex. Naturally, the two will be at each other’s throats in no time.
Clearly, Simon has more fun playing with Florence’s neuroses as something that would get on anybody’s nerves. As a bit of a Florence/Felix myself, I was hoping to see more in the script about the downsides of living with an Oscar, which I have had in various roommates. I can see why my former roomies would want to strangle me, but turnabout is fair play! In this version, the loutishness of Oscar has been dialed down for Olive, who is more of a slob who likes sports. In general, Helen Aveline comes off as a lot more sympathetic than JoAnn DeWind’s Florence, which upsets the balance of the play.
Both DeWind and Aveline have a marvelous time with their parts, solidly landing laughs and playing off the built-in frustrations we all have when living with a roommate or a spouse (or kids or a parent, for that matter). Although the inevitable blow-up that occurs late in the second act could be ratcheted up a notch or two, the pair keeps things fast and funny. When these two desperate housewives attempt a date with Manolo and Jesus Costazuela, the semi-suave Spaniards that live upstairs (replacing the British Pigeon Sisters from the original version), it is amusing to see DeWind unravel while Aveline attempts to tap into her inner cougar.
Played by Chris Bushey and Dennis Gomez, the Costazuela Brothers are the lone dashes of testosterone in this estrogen fest and they have an infectious time with their major scene in the second act. Simon stretches out the mispronunciation and misunderstandings between the romantic Spaniards and their American dates a little too long, but Bushey and Gomez are game and their hearty laughter Make Up For the scene’s shortcomings.
Bracketing the play are scenes where Olive and Florence’s buddies (biddies?) alight for their ritual games of Trivial Pursuit. Suzanne Robertson, Lorrie Bacon and Christen Feola all contribute their punchlines and quips as their roles require and have fun with their parts. Lisa Coleman Hasty is a riot as the squeaky Vera, their dim-witted friend who always seems to be a few steps behind.