(L-R) Darcie Bender, Debra Rodkin, Elizabeth Styles, Kristen Williams, Meghan Powe star in “The Odd Couple, Female Version” at the Greenhouse Theater Center.
‘THE ODD COUPLE, FEMALE VERSION’
When: Through Nov. 10
Where: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln
Info: (773) 404-7336;
Run time: 2 hours, with one intermission
Updated: November 26, 2013 6:06AM
Neil Simon should have left well enough alone.
Instead, he took his iconic 1965 comedy “The Odd Couple” and adapted it in 1986 to feature female versions of neurotic neatnik Felix Unger and slobby sportswriter Oscar Madison. The result is an excruciatingly mediocre, largely laugh-free, wholly uninspired “comedy” featuring Florence Unger and Olive Madison. Directed by Robert Bills for Robert Bills’ Productions, “The Female Odd Couple” is a laborious clunker with all the appeal of the mold-sprouting sandwiches in Olive’s refrigerator.
It’s rarely a good sign with the producer and the director of a show are one and the same, and Bills’ production does nothing to disprove that rule of thumb. In some respects, “The Odd Couple, Female Version” was doomed before it left the gate. Simon’s script — almost wholly identical to the male version, but for the occasional pronoun substitution — simply doesn’t work when it’s propelled by estrogen. That’s not sexism, it’s just a fact. The show was strained and unfunny when Barbara Eden did it here in 2000 and it is so now. But Bills doesn’t help matters with his direction, which seems to have consisted of instructing his cast to embrace the ham to such an extent that you can practically smell the metaphorical 500-pound porker monopolizing the stage. There are no characters here. There are only repositories of shrilly, exaggerated affectations.
Take, for example, Vera (Meghan Powe), the wide-eyed, sweetly naive blonde hanging out with the girls. She’s scripted to be a bit slow on the uptake and (theoretically) generates much of the show’s humor through her daffy inability to keep up with the conversation. Here, Vera comes across as not just slow but absolutely brain damaged. Because it lacks even a glimmer of authenticity, the character also wholly lacks humor. That problem plagues all the women on stage. Florence (Elaine Carlson) isn’t a neurotic hypochondriac, she’s a two-dimensional buffoon. Olive (Elizabeth Styles) is a composite of overwrought personality tics. As the women react to each other, they go so far over the top they all but spiral into outerspace.
Timing is also an issue. The aforementioned reactions consistently come a beat too late, the result being a thudding show that feels like it’s running in slo-mo. The jokes don’t land. They flounder.
“The Odd Couple” does pick up a bit with the arrival of Manolo (Dagoberto Zolio Soto) and Jesus (Cesar Jaime), the Spaniards who live upstairs from Florence and Olive. Both Soto and Jamie inject an zesty spirit of zaniness into the proceedings. They’re hilarious. Alas, they are also not on stage much.
In all, Bills’ production of “The Odd Couple, Female Version” serves as a cautionary tale: This is what happens when a largely irredeemable script meets with clueless direction.
Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.