News Column

'Odd Couple' takes stage, with a twist

September 6, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 06--"The Odd Couple," Neil Simon's iconic comedy about the world's most mismatched roommates, has been performed countless times since it premiered on Broadway in 1965.

It's also been adapted into two separate but equally famous screen incarnations -- first on film in 1968 with the legendary comedy duo of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and later on TV in a 1970 series that ran for five seasons and starred Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.

By now, everyone's familiar with Felix Unger's cleanliness and Oscar Madison's messiness and the hilarious discord they inspire. But Simon himself put a much-needed twist on his dependable comic formula in 1985 when he released an alternate version of "The Odd Couple" that presents the titular duo as women. Although not as famous as its predecessor, the female-centric revamp has been performed numerous times since its debut, and it opens tonight at Ignite! Community Theatre, kicking off its ninth fall season.

Felix Unger is now Florence Unger and Oscar Madison is now Olive Madison, but the domestic conflict at the center of Simon's original play remains the same: One of the roommates is an insufferable neat freak, and the other is an utter slob.

Cast member Stephen Holcomb, who plays one of Florence and Olive's neighbors, describes the show, with its primarily female cast and bawdy subject matter, as a precursor to the hit comedy "Bridesmaids."

"For decades, we've only seen how men are when they're behind closed doors, playing poker and smoking and drinking," Holcomb said. "You finally get to see how women are acting when there's just five or six of them, and they're not as prim and proper as they are out in public."

"And they talk about sex," he added with a laugh. "About 50 percent of their lines are about sex."

But despite the material's light and occasionally risque touch, Holcomb said Simon's play cuts deeper than your typical coarse comedy.

"Olive doesn't take anything seriously, but Florence is putting coasters under coasters," he said. "There's a balance in life between taking yourself too seriously and being too carefree."

Also premiering tonight is the Jacklin Arts and Cultural Center's production of Ira Levin's "Deathtrap," a show that, like "The Odd Couple," has been a theatrical staple since its 1978 debut. Levin is probably best known for his novels "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Stepford Wives," and "Deathtrap" embodies the same devious, darkly humorous spirit.

It's a two-act, five-character thriller about ... well, if you know nothing about the story, it's best to go into the theater cold, because part of the fun of "Deathtrap" is Levin's ability to pull twist after twist from his proverbial hat. Without giving too much away, the show concerns a once-successful playwright who, desperate for a hit, will stop at nothing to steal a crackerjack idea from a younger writer -- murder, double-crosses and secret love affairs soon become par for the course.

This is a mystery in which nothing is as it seems and everyone has an ulterior motive, and the plot doubles back on itself so many times that "Deathtrap" eventually becomes, oddly enough, a play about itself. Although it's been performed countless times and was adapted by director Sidney Lumet into a 1982 film starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, "Deathtrap" still holds up as a tricky, diabolical entertainment.

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(c)2013 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)

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