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Hers 'n' Hers: An Even 'Odd Couple' in Fullerton

Theater review: Women's work is never overdone in Cal State drama department's revival of Neil Simon's alternate universe.

April 17, 1998|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — As "Neil Simon's the Odd Couple II," now in movie theaters, painfully proves, sometimes the playwright-screenwriter doesn't know when to leave a good thing alone. The 1968 "Odd Couple" movie--based on Simon's hit play--was the quintessential marriage of Simon, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

Yet another Simon variation on Felix Unger and Oscar Madison--the female version of "The Odd Couple"--coincidentally is being revived by Cal State Fullerton's prolific drama department. It serves as a further reminder of what a terrible idea the current film sequel is.

Where the new movie is tired and lame, director Monica Leite's production in the campus' Arena Theatre is perky and brisk. As the impossible pair Florence and Olive, Deborah Leonhardt and Julie Remala find fresh notes to play on an extremely familiar tune.

Leonhardt lets Florence's fastidiousness take a back seat to her sexual shyness (like Felix, Florence is recently separated and unsure whether to be an active single). Remala mines most of her comedy from sheer timing, absolutely not mimicking Matthau's droll delivery. When her Olive utters, "God, I hated being 17 . . . until I got to be 35," she makes this fairly desperate unmarried woman her own.

It's also the kind of line that's not in the male version and partly justifies Simon feminizing his play. In this version's occasional inspired moments, you almost forget Felix and Oscar; Florence and Olive's clash over how to handle sexy available neighbors Manolo and Jesus (Len Shliz and Efren Bojorquez) shifts the comedy away from the old slob versus neatnik conflict. It helps, too, that Shliz and Bojorquez are wonderfully funny.

*

Still, Olive is a slob, Florence is a neatnik, and it's just not as funny when it's women. (Felix wearing an apron is comedy; Florence wearing an apron is not.) This may be why the female "Couple" is rarely done. But because Leite keeps her cast moving across the arena stage--a surprisingly ideal form for this play--this is an "Odd Couple" that makes the most of not much. And for those unfortunates who do see the new movie, this version may even be a relief.

* "The Odd Couple," Cal State Fullerton, Arena Theatre, 800 N. State College Blvd. 8 p.m. tonight, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 5 and 8 p.m. Sunday. $5-$7. Ends Sunday. (714) 278-3371. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

"The Odd Couple,"

Julie Remala: Olive Madison

Deborah Leonhardt: Florence Unger

Len Shliz: Manolo Costazuela

Efren Bojorquez: Jesus Costazuela

Varenia Nicholas: Renee

Christine Cummings: Mickey

Jennifer Harrison: Sylvie

Erika Nordenstrom: Vera

Cal State Fullerton Department of Theatre and Dance's production of Neil Simon's comedy. Directed by Monica Leite. Set: Patrick Johnson. Lights: Kimberly Orr. Costumes: Todd Canedy. Sound: John Fisher. Makeup/hair: Tamera Martin. Vocal consultants: Evelyn Carol Case and Joan Melton.

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