Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

The Odd Couple (Female Version)
Las Vegas Little Theatre
Review by Mary LaFrance


Gillen Brey, Casper Collins, April Sauline,
and Drew Yonemori

Photo by Kris Mayeshiro, KM2 Creative
Twenty years after penning The Odd Couple, Neil Simon wrote the female version of his wildly successful play. Oscar the slob became Olive and the neurotic Felix became Florence, the time period advanced to the 1980s, and the nightly poker game was replaced by Trivial Pursuit. This gender bender had a respectable run on Broadway in 1985-86, with estimable leads Rita Moreno as Olive and Sally Struthers as Florence. Simon's official female version should not be confused with all-female productions of the original classic, where the male roles are performed by actresses, including a 2011 production by the Takarazuka Revue Company in Japan.

The original play worked largely because it took advantage of widely accepted gender roles. In the 1960s, it was apparently easy for audiences to accept that a group of male friends would be happy to spend their evenings in Oscar's filthy apartment, playing poker, drinking warm beer, eating stale snacks, and taking verbal jabs at each other. Felix, with his compulsive tidiness and hypochondria, was the classic outsider—not a "normal" male—whose presence disrupted their comfortable male bonding rituals and invited their ridicule.

While times have changed, modern audiences probably still find it easier to relate to these traditional gender stereotypes than to accept the role reversal in the female version. In the 1980s, would a group of women (most of them married) really devote their evenings to playing endless games of Trivial Pursuit at the unkempt apartment of a thoughtless hostess? When their high-strung friend shows up, distraught at being dumped by her spouse of 14 years, would they really resent the intrusion just because she's a bit of a drama queen? And when she provides gourmet treats and full bar service for their Trivial Pursuit nights, would they head for the door just because she asks them to use coasters? If this was difficult to accept in 1985, it is downright baffling today. The female version stretches our willing suspension of disbelief to the limits.

Under the direction of Lysander Abadia, the Las Vegas Little Theatre has bravely—or foolishly—picked up this gauntlet. In one way, the choice makes sense. In most community theatres, more women than men are interested in acting. Yet the theatrical canon heavily favors male roles. Finding a decent play with a predominantly female cast is a continuous challenge, and the "damn the torpedoes" approach of the all-female Takarazukas, while refreshing, requires special dispensation from the rights holders.

In tackling these role reversals, LVLT's chief asset is the redoubtable Gillen Brey. "Larger than life" is an apt description of Brey's performance as Olive. A large woman, she is also large in spirit. With her buoyant energy, Brey's Olive is not just a slob who can't be bothered. She is a happy soul who simply doesn't notice the little things, like dirty dishes or an empty fridge—that's what restaurants are for. An open book, she is not embarrassed if her home doesn't measure up to other people's standards. Brey's interpretation suggests one reason why the other women would return, night after night, to her unappealing digs (nicely realized by set designer Ron Lindblom). In spite of the surroundings, there's just something about Olive.

As the high-maintenance Florence, April Sauline must mine the humor of a ridiculous character while also conveying the genuine pain of a spouse who has been dumped. The gender reversal makes this especially difficult. Given economic and social realities, an abandoned wife in the 1980s—one who had given up her career to become a full-time homemaker for 14 years—faced a much grimmer future than her male counterpart of the 1960s, who could wallow in self-pity while still collecting his regular paycheck. How can we laugh at Florence when we are so affected by her pain? On top of this, the actress must perform in the shadow of the brilliant Tony Randall.

For the most part, Sauline succeeds in meeting this challenge. Squeezed into her buttoned-up pastel suit, she is a ticking time bomb about to explode. In shock, displaced and homeless, she is in free-fall. If she was a control freak before, she has an ever better excuse now.

As successful as she is in conveying Florence's pain, Sauline has yet to fully embrace her ridiculousness. Broader strokes are needed. For example, the famous sinus-clearing routine is too muted. Nonetheless, Sauline and Brey provide some true laugh-out-loud moments. In a nice bit of physical comedy that verges on slapstick, Olive gets frisky with the vacuum cleaner cord; Florence's off-stage scream is perfectly timed. Given the enormous challenge of this role, Sauline is likely to find her comic footing once she has a few performances under her belt.

Unfortunately, the actresses playing the Trivial Pursuit friends cannot match Brey and Sauline in energy, stage presence, or comic timing. Some punch lines don't land, and some dialogue is inaudible. More importantly, it's never clear why they find Florence so annoying. While Brey makes clear that Olive's fundamental approach to life is threatened by sharing her flat with a neat freak, her friends don't seem to share this perspective.

The arrival of two new characters in act two brings an injection of much-needed comic energy. The Pigeon sisters of The Odd Couple are reinvented as the brothers Costazuela—Manolo and Jesus, the upstairs neighbors who work for Iberia Airlines. As the charming brothers who struggle to make small talk in English, Casper Collins and Drew Yonemori bring a goofy style of humor reminiscent of "Saturday Night Live." In perhaps the best scene of the evening, Florence pours out her tale of woe to the gentleman callers, who respond by wailing loudly about their own broken marriages. This moment of comic melodrama gives new meaning to the phrase "pity party." If director Abadia had peppered his production with a bit more of this silliness, it might have overcome the awkward gender transposition.

The Odd Couple (Female Version) continues through May 21, 2017, Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, and Saturday, May 13, at 2 pm) at the Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89103. For tickets ($24; students and seniors $21) or further information, go to www.lvlt.org or call 702-362-7996.

Cast:
Florence: April Sauline
Olive: Gillen Brey
Mickey: Rebecca Kernes
Renee: Natalie Senecal (opening night: Dakota Cobb)
Sylvie: Jennifer McClain
Vera: Kate Labahn
Jesus: Drew Yonemori
Manolo: Casper Collins

Additional Creative:
Lighting design by Ginny Adams; Costume design by Beth Dandy; Sound design by Lysander Abadia.


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