The Odd Couple to hit local stage

Thu, 2013-11-14 09:09 -- univcomm
November 14, 2013

It’s more than the neat freak versus the slob. It’s friendship and curve balls and life, with laughs. Anderson University’s Theatre Department presents “The Odd Couple,” Neil Simon’s female version, opening tomorrow at Boze Lyric Theatre in Byrum Hall. Ronn Johnstone directs.

“The Odd Couple” was originally the now-familiar story of Felix and Oscar, written by Neil Simon, and first performed on Broadway in 1965. The comedy explored the clash of the wound-up neat freak with the easygoing slob. Simon later wrote the female version of the story in 1985. [Photo: The Costazuela brothers melodramatically commiserate with Florence over lost loves in the Anderson University production the female version of "The Odd Couple." Jesus (Joshua Harrington) at left and Manolo (Ian Lawrence) at right console Florence (Anne Stichter). The play opens Friday.]

The story tells of two friends, both reeling from the break-ups of their marriages. The neurotic hypochondriac Florence compulsively cleans and cooks to the nth degree. Meanwhile, Olive is the easygoing, unkempt sports writer. She’s got a big heart and invites the despondent Florence to share her apartment, but Florence ultimately drives her right up the wall. Into this mix, add four female friends who like to get together for Trivial Pursuit. Finally, there’s the Costazuela brothers, a pair with date potential in Olive’s eyes.

AU’s cast fills the bill. Savannah Trevelen is the somewhat slovenly but warm-hearted Olive. She arrives on stage looking like she just played softball.

Anne Stichter as Florence plays a convincing neurotic hypochondriac who is at the same time crassly funny, burping to beat the band after downing a soda, and emitting dissonate loud gronks to correct the effects of her theoretical sinus condition. Of course, all the while, her hair is in place and she’s wearing pearls with her apron.

The pair’s friends, Renee (Cassi Russel), Vera (Aijamal Abdrahmanova), Sylvie (Emily Farris) and Mickey (Grace Long), generate exactly the sort of camaderie we expect, while conveying truly individual characters. The timing works well amongst all the banter, eliciting laughs along the way. Vera’s vacuity was perhaps written a little over the top by the playwright, but Abdrahmanova does a great job with it.

The entire story takes place in Olive’s apartment. The AU set is an inviting, funky urban scene with exposed metal ductwork and an interior brick wall.

While the AU cast and crew does an admirable job with the play, be forewarned that Simon’s female version of “The Odd Couple” is slow to warm up comedically. The first act of the play has a good share of relationship angst. The AU actors do a nice job of lightening this up where they can.

The comedy picks up speed after the intermission when Olive’s unrest with her persnickety housemate as well as her lack of male companionship drive the story.

Enter the Costazuela brothers, with chains gracing their open-neck shirts. Joshua Harrington as Jesus and Ian Lawrence as Manolo are hilarious, playing the fawning, nonsensically affected pair to a tee. Just the way they furiously whisper at each other whenever no one’s looking is ridiculously fun.

One cannot help but to place this production against the backdrop of the future plans for the university’s department of theatre — set to be cut as a major in the 2014-2015 academic year – with staff cuts that include the play’s director, Ronn Johnstone. It is clear that Johnstone and his department set the bar high in performance and technology. The impending cuts stand starkly against the richness, dedication and creativity delivered to the local scene.

The play opens this Friday, with performances through this weekend and the next. The play runs about 2 hours and 15 minutes including the intermission. For information or to purchase tickets, call the box office at 641-4140.

— Nancy R. Elliott is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story republished with permission.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.