Don’t miss the female version of ‘The Odd Couple’

Published 11:28 am Thursday, June 6, 2019

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

Neil Simon’s play “The Odd Couple” was so successful as a movie and later as a TV show that someone suggested casting women in all the roles.

Simon did one better — he rewrote the play to fit the cast, and the female version has been almost as popular.

Piedmont Players is taking on the gender reversal in its latest production, staring Andy Rassler as sloppy, divorced enabler Olive and Marnie Stoker as shrieking, obsessive-compulsive Florence, now separated from her husband.

Rassler and Stoker seem made for their parts, with Rassler coming across as sympathetic and reasonable compared to Stokes’ uptight, pearl-clad tension.

The supporting cast — in this case, the girls who get together to play Trivial Pursuit, not poker — are a bunch of stage veterans, including Lori Van Wallendael, who played one of the girls upstairs  in Piedmont’s 2005 production.

That 2005 male version also starred Gary Thornburg as Felix and Shawn Van Wallendael as one of the buddies. Now, Gary and Shawn are the upstairs Costanzuela brothers, Jesus and Manolo.

So it’s sort of like a reunion, with Reid Leonard’s direction and design.

Surely you know the plot. Florence’s husband dumps her. Olive, who’s been divorced and living on her own, takes Florence in for company and because she feels sorry for her. Like Oscar and Felix, they are polar opposites. Florence sweeps in, literally, and begins tidying up like a madwoman. She cleans, she vacuums, she purifies the air, she cooks. And her neck hurts, her back hurts, and her sinuses prompt her to make bizarre noises in the middle of the night.

Olive, a television producer, just wants to hang out, eat takeout, drop her clothes on the floor — all the things that made her husband crazy. And that husband is constantly calling to ask for money, a request she falls for every time.

The girls, Robin Rogers as Sylvie, Tamara Sheffield as Mickey, Lori Van Wallendael as Renee and Holly Grant as Vera, worry about Florence at first, but once she moves into the apartment where they all gather for trivia and chips, she’s so annoying they all get up and leave after a while of  “Use the coasters!” “Don’t drop crumbs!” and other helpful advice.

The ladies make a fine ensemble, with Sheffield’s worried cop one of the most endearing. Grant’s clueless Vera should prompt laughs with her absent-mindedness.

Rogers and Lori Van Wallendael are outspoken and totally believable.

When Olive starts feeling the need for a man, she wants to go out with the Costanzuela brothers upstairs. No, Florence says, I’ll cook. You can just imagine what ensues as they bump up against the language barrier, the time, and Olive’s and Flo’s widely varying expectations.

Will Olive finally snap? Will the brothers find solace in the arms of their neighbors? Will anyone come back to play Trivial Pursuit again?

Well, comedies have a way of ending happily.

This play is suitable for young and old alike and runs about two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

“The Odd Couple” opens tonight and continues at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and June 12-15 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Meroney Theater. For tickets, visit Piedmontplayers.com or call 704-633-5471.

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