Story & photos by Rebecca Stone
For the TODAY
What are friends for? They’re for picking you up when you’re down; giving you shelter when you have no place else to go; and they’re all for letting you know when you’re driving them crazy.
In Theatre West’s female version of the well-known Neil Simon play “The Odd Couple,” Oscar Madison becomes Olive and Felix Unger becomes Florence as they test the bounds of friendship and cleanliness. They prove that when it comes to sharing a living space, women can be just as odd a couple as men. And they can do it in heels.
The fifth production in the theater’s Season of Simon, “The Odd Couple” is offered this summer in two flavors. Throughout July, it features a mostly female cast, while in August the story will be told from the traditional male point of view.
“Normally, in the summer we do an eight-week run,” said director Rich Emery. “That’s a big commitment for cast members. So we decided to split the play into genders.”
Emery, who comes from a 35-year stint of teaching accounting at Linfield College, says that most of the challenges that have surfaced in staging this production have involved the numerous set changes. But he credits set designer Bruce Jackson with handling this with aplomb.
“Blocking was another challenge,” he said. “There is lots of moving around on stage.”
But Emery was more than up for the task. Both an actor and director at Theatre West, he believes that all actors should direct at least one play, to see how it all comes together.
And come together it does, once you get past the fact that Joy Gallagher as Olive, looks nothing like Walter Matthau, who starred as Oscar in the play’s original 1968 film version of the 1965 Broadway production. Nonetheless, she pulls off the role with a kind of convincing bravado as she takes in newly separated fussy Florence, played by Roseanne Johnson, and then grapples with her new roomie’s proclivities toward neatness and hypochondria.
Johnson’s Flo is a whiny neat freak, who sets happily sloppy Olive on edge. Olive explains that she prefers to spend her time writing and doing things other than cleaning, as evidenced by the clutter of clothes and food remnants strewn about the place. But Flo’s priorities are different. She provides us with more than a hint about why her husband wants a divorce with all of her incessant vacuuming, cleaning, sinus clearing and nut arranging. She even insists on cleaning the air, driving not only Olive, but some of their friends batty.
As the Trivial Pursuit-playing pals, Robin Kirsch as Sylvie, Patti Siberz as Mickey, Terri King as Renee and Stina Seeger-Gibson as Vera, are a jovial bunch, perfectly at home with dispensing kitchen table wisdom, while munching on potato chips. And they are good friends. They worry when Olive writes too many checks to her former spouse, who constantly calls asking for money. And they worried when Flo dropped hints about killing herself as a result of a broken heart. But they also are familiar with Flo’s rather annoying tendencies, as she dispenses napkins, tea sandwiches and rules about using coasters.
Other visitors to the once messy, now pristine apartment include two Spanish brothers, neighbors with dating potential. Manolo and Jesus Costazuela, adroitly played by Steve Griffiths and Andrew Schmitz, easily draw laughs from the audience as they attempt to bridge both language and etiquette barriers with Olive and Flo. And they are able to connect with the doleful Flo on an emotional level, even over a picture of landscaping, much to the consternation of Olive, who simply wants to have a good time.
The female version of “The Odd Couple,” adapted by Simon from his original, debuted on Broadway in 1985. It basically follows the same story line, with tweaks here and there to compensate for gender change. One of the funniest involves Spanish brothers’ desperate attempts to be polite.
Some of Simon’s plays can seem a bit anachronistic to today’s audiences. But there is no denying his biting wit. It’s enough to keep audiences laughing even in 2017. So if you could use a laugh or two, check out Theatre West’s female version of “The Odd Couple” — and then come back for seconds in August for a dose of male angst.
“The Odd Couple” is presented Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm through July 29, with one Saturday matinée at 2 pm on July 16. Tickets are $15 for adults, and $13 for seniors (60 and over) and students over 12. For tickets call 541-994-5663.
Theatre West is located at 3536 SE Hwy. 101, Lincoln City. For more information about the theater, go to www.theatrewest.com.