Neil Simon’s blockbuster comedy, The Odd Couple, has been packaged, repackaged, filmed, performed live, aired on TV and altered in a variety of ways. To bring its 2022-23 season to a close on a highly humorous note, Boca Stage presents a comic version of Simon’s 1980’s reworking of his original production – one that casts the two lead characters and all their working-class buddies as women.
At least one member of that acting troupe has dubbed the show an “estrogen-infused comedy featuring an all-star cast.”
The Odd Couple (Female Version) is Neil Simon’s 1986 update of his original New York-based, male-cast comedy. This time, the lead players — Unger and Madison –are women — named Florence Unger and Olive Madison. They portray the persistently bickering roommates who try to make a go of cohabitation, despite having totally opposite personalities and lifestyles.
Their persistent efforts to smooth over the potholes of life ramps up the comedy level and makes the show even more worthy of watching, no matter which medium delivers it.
“The transformation of Felix and Oscar into female characters opens up an entirely new realm to explore,” said Keith Garsson, Boca Stage artistic director who also helms this hilariously stormy battle of wills and wits. “I am thrilled to have an extraordinary cast tackle the fast and funny dialogue, while also delving into characters’ journeys as friends and newly single women.”
Garsson has packed the cast of this end-of-season production with talented performers familiar to South Florida theatergoers. Among them are Patti Gardner (who portrays Olive) and Amy London (Florence) along with artistically rich castmates Leah Sessa, Sara Grant, Elissa Solomon, Elizabeth Price, Juan Gamero and Rio Chavarro.
Scene from The Odd Couple (Female Version) at Boca Stage. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)
Both versions of The Odd Couple follow similar tracks but veer off according to the diverse ways men and women respond to various situations. Throughout the show, Simon depends on these variations to create alternative styles of humor. All this makes the show work.
Both productions begin with games. In The Odd Couple, the guys are playing poker while in the female edition, the gals are enjoying a more genteel competition, Trivial Pursuit, in Olive’s apartment which, in Act I, is in serious need of a good scrubbing. (In Act II, after Florence has cleaned it, the flat is pristine.)
As Trivial Pursuit continues, Florence — who was long overdue – arrives, fresh from being dumped by her husband. An earlier phone call alerted the ladies that her spouse threw her out, demanding a separation. They feared that neurotic Florence might attempt suicide.
After the gang leaves, Olive — who has been living alone — assuages Florence’s anxiety by inviting her to move in as her roommate. However, Olive and Florence have exceedingly different personalities – a fact that becomes apparent early on. And that’s the fuse that ignites the laughs and comic situations throughout the production.
You couldn’t find two women with so many differences. But the fact is, they are longtime friends. At one point, Olive tells Florence how much she loves her. “If you had two more legs, you’d take yourself dancing.”
Initially, things are so-so, and Olive and Florence do their best to endure the conflicts that arise. But as the play moves along, the strain intensifies until, by late in the performance, things get really intense.
Patti Gardner as Florence Unger in The Odd Couple (Female Version) at Boca Stage. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)
There is one major difference between The Odd Couple versions. Gone are the flighty Pigeon Sisters who were Oscar and Felix’s double dates in the testosterone-fueled version. Replacing them are the two Costazuela brothers. The arrival of the two predominantly Spanish-speaking men for a double date with excited Olive and reluctant Florence brings delightfully fresh comic material and energy to the stage. Juan Gamero and Rio Chavarro are terrific as Jesus and Manolo, instilling endearing naivety and sweetness into these two male characters.
The scene with the Costazuela brothers runs long, but it’s very funny and keeps the audience in stitches. Olive warns Florence that the guys have a problem with our language. “They speak perfect English – every once in a while,” she says.
The brothers do a heck of a job butchering English, which makes it difficult for the women – particularly Florence – to understand. The mismatched language is the set piece for perhaps the funniest scene in the show.
The meeting involving Florence, Olive, Jesus and Manolo plays a pivotal role in Simon’s comedy and sets the stage for the rundown to a surprise ending that ties up a lot of loose ends.
The two versions of The Odd Couple – along with many of Simon’s other plays – reveal another measure of his ability. Not only does he infuse his comedy with satire, but also social relevance. The propriety of lifestyle is a focus in both Odd Couple productions.
Director Garsson deserves credit for a couple of exceptional moves. For one thing, he managed to get six top- notch female actors in South Florida on one stage at the same time.
And he has also paired a couple of these terrific ladies as the leads in this comic production. Amy London and Patti Gardner have lengthy theatrical agendas and lots of stage credibility. Not only that, they have terrific personal and professional chemistry.
London has been performing since age 5 and has had a long, varied theater career festooned with comic and dramatic roles. She has branched out into ancillary arts as a director, stage manager, writer and voice over artist.
For Gardner, Florence marks her fourth production with Boca Stage. An actor for some 30 years, she has worked throughout South Florida and toured nationally with Menopause the Musical.
From left, Juan Gamero, Patti Gardner and Rio Chavarro in The Odd Couple (Female Version) at Boca Stage. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)