In the mid-1980s, legendary playwright Neil Simon did something unusual. He took one of his best-known works, “The Odd Couple,” and adapted it for female leads.
So Felix Unger, the fastidious man whose marriage has imploded, becomes Florence Unger, a fussy housewife and mother whose husband leaves her.
Oscar Madison, the slovenly sports writer, becomes Olive Madison, a sloppy and frequently broke TV news producer.
Rather than Friday night poker with the boys, there’s Friday night Trivial Pursuit with the girls. (We did say this was the ’80s. There’s a joke about the relative attractiveness of Adlai Stevenson, which probably felt dated in the ’80s.)
Rather than wooing their English neighbors, the Pigeon sisters, they woo their Spanish neighbors, the Costazuela brothers.
“The Odd Couple” is one of those titles that is easily recognizable from the play, the classic movie starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon or the beloved TV sitcom with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. And even with the gender switch, the general beats of the play remain the same. A slob takes in a friend, an uptight hypochondriac, and various levels of hilarity ensue.
It’s all well-trodden territory and a story that’s been part of pop culture for more than five decades. Heck, the new-fangled female version is approaching middle age. So a production’s ultimate success will lie in its casting.
Fortunately, the latest production of “The Odd Couple (Female Version),” running through Nov. 3 at Lake City Playhouse in Coeur d’Alene, finds success right out of the gate in that regard.
Olive offers her guests warm sodas and their choice sandwiches – green or brown – she finds stashed in her broken refrigerator. She’s a soft touch when it comes to her ex-husband, who calls frequently asking for cash. In the role, Emily Cleveland is all tomboy energy and excellent comedic timing.
Cleveland, who has had memorable turns this year in the musicals “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre and “Company” at the playhouse, finds a nonmusical role she can really dive into. Her Olive is funny and sassy, quick with a cutting remark but there for her friends.
Annie Altevers has the more difficult job. She is tasked with making finicky Florence likeable. She is so deeply concerned with achieving perfection that she fails to remember that few people are perfect. She’s naggy and fussy and consistently unhappy with life for the simple reason that the people in it cannot meet her exacting standards.
As Florence, Altevers brings plenty of charm to the character. She and Cleveland have terrific chemistry, too, making their odd-couple partnership appealing.
Director Rick Boal assembled a solid supporting cast, as well. As the often-clueless Vera, Sherre Barnes lands solid punchline after solid punchline. Darlene Backes as Sylvie is brash and quite funny. And Kevin Benham as Manolo Constazuela nearly steals Act II.
He and Ricky St. Martin (as Jesus Constazuela) come for dinner and with their broken English aim to steal some hearts. Much as the Pigeon sisters do in the original play, the Constanzuela brothers add a different comedic chemistry to the mix to good effect.
“The Odd Couple (Female Version)” breaks little new ground but rather embraces the audience in the familiar. Thankfully, the cast at Lake City Playhouse brings a little something extra to the party.
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