Encore Michigan

The Odd Couple (female version) finally lives up to Simon’s vision at Tipping Point

Review January 31, 2016 David Kiley

NORTHVILLE, Mich.–Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (Female Version) is a trap play for theaters and actors. The original play is a fan-favorite and almost guaranteed seat filler for theaters. But the “female version,” which debuted in 1985 on Broadway, has never been very well received, and, in fact, pretty much tanked on the big stage.

The production mounted at The Tipping Point Theatre, directed by Lynn Wilde Concannon, however, is the most successful I have seen (including the Broadway production) thanks to a wonderful cast who figured out how to make the joke work–sloppy Oscar (“Olive” here played by Dani Cochrane) and finicky Felix (“Florence” here played by Katherine Banks), originally written for men, are friends, opposites, and yet need one another.

The premise of the men’s version (playing now at The Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea) should be familiar to everyone with a pulse. Here, Olive is a successful TV producer and Florence is a just-separated mother. The two have a gaggle of female friends who gather at Olive’s apartment on Friday nights for Trivial Pursuit (in place of poker), cocktails, wine coolers and girl talk. The female characters all parallel the original: Sylvie (Sonja Marquis) takes the place of Speed; Mickey (Melynee Saunders Warren), a police woman, takes the place of Murray the Cop; Vera (Angela Kay Miller) takes the place of Vinnie; Renee (Julia Garlotte) takes the place of Roy, the accountant.

Where the female version has traditionally broken down in other productions is the casting of Olive to play a believable mess-maker that we identify with and feel for. But Cochrane was inspired casting. Everything from her physical look, body language and walk, to the outfits given to her by costume designer Colleen Ryan-Peters, and her never-quite-right coif, makes her believable as a randy, brainy slob who also manages to be successful in her profession, and, most important, caring about her friends and even her deadbeat ex-husband.

Florence, as well as Felix, is a role that can easily fall into stereotype or a mimic of Tony Randall, who played the role on TV. But Banks navigates Florence exceptionally well, balancing the neurotic milquetoast that can’t stop putting coasters under everyone’s drinks to the ladle-wielding cook who is pissed about Olive not appreciating her cooking efforts, to ultimately the woman who is found attractive by the saucy, sentimental Spanish neighbor guys.

The Costazuela brothers, Manolo and Jesus, all but run away with the second act. Taking the place of the British Pigeon sisters in the original, Patrick Loos as Manolo slithers on stage, at first coming off as a Barcelona lounge lizard. But he is so overwhelmingly passionate toward the over-sexed Olive and under-sexed Florence that his act, which is punctuated by a series of funny lost-in-translation malaprops that would have made Desi Arnaz cackle, has him coming across as an irresistible Latin lover. Nick Yocum as Jesus, the younger Costazuela, figured out his yang to Loos’s yin so that he stands out as a more boyish, even vulnerable lover, making the duo work extremely well for a lot of yucks. The audience was loving the boys as much as the ladies.

The Trivial Pursuit crew works well as a tight group of gals, occasionally inspired by a bit of Stevie Nicks and Olivia Newton-John. With many lines only slightly tweaked from the original written for the men, the ladies script is augmented with a bit more gender-correct jawboning about sex and their frigid husbands. And they play off the circa-1983 set, complete with bean-bag chair, very nicely. Miller’s Vera is the designated air-head, but she doesn’t overplay it, which helps keep anyone in the game from falling into sit-com stereotype. Marquis’s Sylvie as the well-worn married broad is spot-on, and gets some of the best outfits to wear from the early Reagan years.

There’s always a danger of The Odd Couple (female version) falling into a “chick play” hole and repelling male patrons like a trip to The Dress Barn. But this male reviewer, who has seen countless iterations of the Simon play and can run lines from the TV show with his best buds from the old neighborhood, is pleased to say that the ladies of The Tipping Point thoroughly pulled this one off and made Simon’s original finally work for the other sex.

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