Smile Politely

Twin City Theatre bring Neil Simon to Neil Street with The Female Odd Couple

Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple is one of those plays that persists through time. Maybe it’s because it reminds us of a simpler era, when a lack of technology and social media necessitated face-to-face interaction (or at least a phone call). Maybe it’s because we relate to the characters’ pursuit of connection and appreciate the way they “complement” each other. Maybe it’s just because, more than 50 years after it debuted, the play is still hilarious. The Twin City Theatre’s current production, an adaptation (also written by Simon) called The Female Odd Couple, was admittedly written about 20 years after the original, but it sticks pretty close to the original story and thus is another testament to the play’s staying power. This version follows main characters Olive and Florence and their group of female friends through the comedic tribulations that come when people with completely incompatible personalities try to live together.

First off, let me just say, this play is fun. The laughs are constant, not only thanks to the great one-liners, but to the fantastic delivery of all the actors here. Diane Pritchard was a wonderful casting choice for Olive; her facial expressions and gestures brought even more to her spoken lines. Wendy Galloway’s Florence was put-upon and self-deprecating without descending into an Eeyore-like caricature of pity. Every one of the ladies in the circle of friends sparkled with personality and will probably make you wish you had a group of girl friends like this one.

The play opens with the ladies around the table at Olive’s messy apartment playing their weekly round of Trivial Pursuit. This week is different, though, because one of the regulars, Florence, is missing. It’s soon revealed that Florence’s husband Sidney has asked for a divorce, sending her out into the city in a fit of grief. Eventually she turns up at Olive’s where the well-meaning ladies try to comfort her without upsetting her more; of course, hilarity ensues. Eventually, it’s just Olive and Florence left at the apartment, and Olive proposes her great idea: why doesn’t Florence move in? Olive gets lonely by herself in her big New York apartment, and Florence clearly needs somewhere to go while she gets back on her feet – it’s a win-win!

Except, of course, it isn’t. Olive is messy, boisterous, and carefree whereas Florence is meticulous, neat, and more of a homebody. Olive will serve her guests room-temperature soda and whatever’s left in the fridge, while Florence is whipping up homemade crab salad on fresh bread and ice cold beverages of the drinkers’ choice. Olive is happy to leave the evening’s mess for the next day (or week, or month) while Florence is cleaning up even before the guests even leave. To say the least, it creates some tension, culminating in the disastrous dinner date with the Costazuela brothers and lots of laughs for the audience. Seriously, I was surprised by how often I found myself chuckling at a line or a facial expression. And listening to the infectious nervous laughter of the Costazuela brothers (especially Grant Morenz’s Manolo) was enough in itself to get the audience going.

The production had a few rough edges – there was the occasional flubbed line or cue and, while this is a small thing, I wish we could have heard, for example, the crash of a plate of food that Olive throws offstage into the kitchen in a fit of temper. But these minor things were well overshadowed by the care and enthusiasm the Twin City Theatre Co. clearly had for this production and the characters. These actors were having fun, and it showed. One of the advantages community theatre has is the closeness of the audience to the production—in the physical distance between seats and the stage, but also the resulting emotional investment in both the characters and the actors.

Being so close to the set meant one could take in the details of Olive’s realistically-staged apartment where the play’s action takes place: it’s cozy, lived in, and effectively bears the results of Olive’s laissez-faire attitude to cleaning. Florence’s presence becomes obvious in its transformation to relative tidiness. The costumes helped express the characters’ personalities without calling too much attention to themselves, and the only things that really dated the setting to a past era (besides maybe all the face-to-face interaction) were the old landline phone and the obvious lack of computers and other modern tech.

Being that this was the female version of the show, there’s certainly room for contemplation of gender roles and the celebration of women’s independence in characters like Olive. That she (and Florence, reluctantly) are pursuing the Costazuela brothers instead of the other way around, for example, is refreshing. But the show isn’t attempting to push any overt agenda or political message, so if you’re just looking for a fun night of theatre, then rest assured that this production brings to the stage a good, solid story with interesting, authentic, and well-played characters.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that it’s funny?

The Female Odd Couple, written by Neil Simon and directed by John Tilford, runs February 9-11 and 15-18 at the Sodo Theatre, 114 S. Neil St. For tickets and information, click here

Photos by Dylan Tiger.

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