BWW REVIEWS: THE ODD COUPLE (FEMALE VERSION) at Clear Space Theatre Company
It has been almost thirty years since Neil Simon reversed the genders of the characters in The Odd Couple from Oscar and Felix to Olive and Florence. The time for debating the relative merits of the two versions is long past.
The Odd Couple (Female Version), in the decades since, has been performed with varying degrees of success. The version presented at Clear Space Theater Company has produced, through careful direction, excellent timing, and cast chemistry, a very successful performance of this play.
All of the action takes place in Olive's apartment and Clear Space's thrust stage was used to good effect. Before any actor appears, before the show begins, the audience absorbs its resplendent disorder: the scene is preset, the action anticipated.
When the curtain rises, we see the rest of Olive's apartment and the Trivial Pursuit game introduces "the gang" - Sylvie (Valorie Jarrell), Renee (Elizabeth Roe), Vera (Susann Studz), and Mickey (Aleta Thompson). Each member of the group has her own quirk that provides individuality, but their function in the play is that of a Greek chorus - filling in background and informing the audience, through their conversations, of events unseen. They achieved this effect admirably. Their conversations and asides keep much of the play moving and the timing of their comedy was generally excellent.
Olive Madison (Amy Warick) is a news writer, not overly concerned with neatness or order at home. Her expertise in sports trivia derives, she says, from her interest in "men in tight pants". She offers her guests warm soft drinks and a choice of green or brown finger sandwiches. Ms. Warick's Olive is a very real character, a person whom one might well meet on the street or know at work - generally easy-going, but with an acerbic sense of humor.
Florence Unger (Elaine Faye) is, of course, the keystone of the play. Florence is not an easy person. Her "quirks" make her simultaneously fascinating and repellent. If you met her on the street, you'd probably cross to the other side; if she worked in your office, you might look into telecommuting. Ms. Faye rounds out Florence so that, with all her idiosyncrasies, she is still essentially likable; you can sympathize with the people around Florence, but you can also feel her pain, as well. My impression of Florence was that she was a kind of neurotic Jewish mother to the group.
The show reaches its pinnacle with the arrival of Jesus and Manolo, the Costazuela brothers from upstairs. Paul Fedynich and John Williams have created two tipos salvajes y locos (wild and crazy guys), determined to infuse every situation with as much machismo as they can exude. They do not enter until well into Act II, but they lift the play to a new level of laughter just when it is needed.
Despite its inherent flaws (Yes, I'm on that side of the OC vs OC(F) debate), this play succeeds or fails on the basis of its performance, and this performance succeeds. Director David Button has put together a good cast and has guided them carefully past the rocks and shoals on which they could have foundered. Special mention must be made of the detailed set, designed by Eddy Seger, which uses Clear Space's rather unique staging to good advantage. Kudos to Stage Manager Abby Toomey and the crew who assisted her in handling Olive's disorganization in a highly organized way.
The faults I observed were minor and more related to venue rather than performance. Furniture placed on the thrust stage results in cast members spending periods of time in a fixed position that faces away from between a third to half of the audience, reducing audibility and limiting visual interpretation. In essence, the staging upstages the actor. Clear Space has a new sound system, so it is perhaps a matter of fine tuning, but there were times when the sound system overpowered the dialogue.