Theatre review: The Odd Couple (Female Version) could benefit from a laugh track

It’s probably no mere coincidence that a production of the 1985 female version of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple hits Vancouver stages around the same time as this year’s International Women’s Day.  And while this oestrogen-filled adaptation isn’t about to set the women’s liberation movement back 30 years, sometimes big hair and big shoulders are better off being just big memories.

The cast of the Froclicking Diva production of The Odd Couple (Female Version)First appearing on Broadway stages in 1965 the original The Odd Couple went on to become a bit of a phenomena, spawning both a hit movie and a successful television series, propelling the names Oscar and Felix into the cultural lexicon.  Given its popularity and success it wasn’t surprising that 20 years after writing the male version that Simon decided to give his play a gender twist that saw Oscar and Felix become Olive and Florence.

In the male chauvinist 60s and 70s, when The Odd Couple first rose to fame, there was probably something quite funny about two guys living together, one a slob and another obsessed with cleaning. But even when we fast forward to the mid-80s this female version gets stuck in its own time warp that relies too heavily on an era and in the realization that you can get only so many laughs from a decade that gave us L’eggs and Trivial Pursuit.

Despite the uphill battle director David C Jones and the cast in this Frolicking Diva production face with this “period piece”, there are still some fine moments.

As ditzy blonde Vera, Joni Hayden-Summerton all but steals the show from the women gathered around the table as her genuine smile never fades, oblivious to the insults that are flung her way and Veenu Sandhu gives her Renee just enough prim and proper attitude.

Lisa Dery and Lori Watt work hard to breathe some life into Olive and Florence but I felt surprisingly little connection between the two.  In what should have been a hilarious scene reminiscent of a good British bedroom farce became more perplexing than funny and like the build to the final showdown between the two, it fell flat.

Set designer Drew Taylor gives us a nice representation of Olive’s apartment but director Jones fails to take full advantage of its multiple doors.  And just for the record, I defy anyone to point me in the direction of any guest bathroom that features brandy and a snifter.

Inducing an occasional smile over any big laughs, I couldn’t help but think that Simon’s female version of The Odd Couple could have benefited from a laugh track.

2 1/2 of 5 Stars The Odd Couple (Female Version)

Written by Neil Simon.  Directed by David C Jones.  A Frolicking Divas production.  On stage at the Jericho Arts Centre through March 17, 2012.  Visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com for tickets and information.

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