Roles reversed in female version of The Odd Couple

Neil Simon adaptation of his own play on stage at Hendry Hall

North Vancouver Community Players present The Odd Couple (Female Version) by Neil Simon, Sept. 9-24 at The Theatre at Hendry Hall, 815 East 11th St., North Vancouver. Tickets: $18/$16 at northvanplayers.ca http://northvanplayers.ca or 604-983-2633.

Playwrights rely on actors to translate the emotion in their scripts from the page to the stage.

In some cases though, the writing is so strong it can be appreciated much like a novel. As an actor and director, Karen Golden reads a lot of plays and says Neil Simon’s comedy The Odd Couple (Female Version) is one of those rarities that ignites chuckles from a solo page-through.

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“You don’t very often read a comedy and laugh out loud when you’re reading it. You usually have to see it, or at least be able to imagine seeing it, before you can really get a good belly laugh out of it,” she says.

Golden is directing the North Vancouver Community Players’ production of The Odd Couple (Female Version), which kicks off the local theatre group’s 2016/17 season. Most people are more familiar with Simon’s original version of The Odd Couple, which opened on Broadway in 1965. That play follows a pair of mismatched roommates: the tidy and uptight Felix Ungar and the slobby and laid-back Oscar Madison. It was turned into a 1968 movie starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (who also starred in the long-running Broadway show), and was later adapted into a TV sitcom in the 1970s.  

In 1985, Simon updated his hit play for a female cast. Based on the same story line, the revised version features two female roommates: Florence Ungar (played by Tamara

Prescott in the upcoming NVCP production) and Olive Madison (played by Mersiha Musovic). Instead of revolving around a poker night, as in the original, this rendition sees Olive invite four girlfriends over for an evening of Trivial Pursuit. Meanwhile, upstairs neighbours the Pigeon sisters have been replaced by the Costazuela brothers.

“In some ways it’s identical. There are actually sections of the script that are the same as the male version,” says Golden. But Simon has given his rewrite “a uniquely female twist,” she explains.

The script touches on topical gender issues, though Golden says the audience should bear in mind that the story takes place in the mid-’80s.

“We didn’t monkey around with the time, we kept it true to the period it was written in,” she says.

Non-married cohabitation, for instance, isn’t the taboo it was 30 years ago. But other topics the characters discuss, such as the gender pay gap, remain hot-button issues today.

Part of Simon’s comic genius, Golden says, is his ability to find humour in familiar situations everyone has experienced.

“We all know what it’s like to have a broken heart, we all know what it’s like to be rejected, we all know what it’s like to have good friends, we all know what it’s like to try to get along with someone that you might be mismatched with as a roommate,” she says. “One of the main reasons people laugh at this stuff is because they recognize themselves or people they know.”

The Odd Couple (Female Version) employs a number of comedy styles, from witty back-and-forth banter to slapstick-style physical humour. Mostly, though, Golden expects audiences will be laughing at the foibles of the characters.

“They’re all flawed, all these characters. We’re pulling for them, we like them, we’re charmed by them, but we recognize they’re all flawed.”

It’s been 50 years since the original The Odd Couple premiered and 30 years since the female version made its debut, yet both plays remain fan favourites that are frequently staged across North America. Golden suspects the story has maintained its appeal over the decades because of its timeless themes.

“The fashions change and the social norms change and the headlines change, but we’re all still looking for the same stuff, you know, we want to feel appreciated, we want to feel loved, we want to get along with each other, and that’s what it’s all about.”

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