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Women take center stage in Magnolia Arts' 'The Odd Couple'

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Olive Madison (played by Leann Rafferty) calls to check on a missing Florence Ungar in "The Odd Couple." At left is Chria Williams, who plays Sylvie.

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By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Friday, October 5, 2018

There is something oddly familiar about Florence Ungar and Olive Madison. Their names don't necessarily ring a bell, but the sloppy sports fan and neurotic neatnik are reminiscent of a couple of characters most people have seen before.

But prettier.

Leann Rafferty and Michelle Pittman star in the “The Odd Couple,” which opens today at Magnolia Arts Center. Based on a comedy by Neil Simon, this tale of two opposites who become mismatched roommates due to divorce features a cast made up predominantly of women.

“There are many similarities (to the original 1965 stage play),” said co-director Roseann Meyers, who is making her Magnolia Arts directorial debut with “The Odd Couple.” “Basically, the big difference is the change of sex.”

Female-cast remakes have been popular in Hollywood over the past couple of years. Films like “Ghostbusters,” “Ocean's 8” have drawn both jeers and cheers from audiences and critics. The trend shows no sign of slowing down, with “What Men Want” set for release in 2019 and female-cast remakes of “Lord of the Flies,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and “The Rocketeer” rumored to be on the horizon.

But “The Female Odd Couple” cannot be counted as part of the modern movement. Simon, who died in August at age 91, wrote the changes into the script himself more than three decades ago.

In female version, Oscar's (now Olive's) weekly poker game is exchanged for Trivial Pursuit with girlfriends Sylvie (played by Chria Williams), Mickey, (Nastoshia Smith), Renee (Susie Ward) and Vera (Marlo Holesten). The Pigeon sisters from the original play are now Manolo (Ridge Lewis) and Jesus (Eric Adams), the Costazuela brothers.

Magnolia Arts had initially considered doing both versions of “The Odd Couple.” But board of directors president and co-director Stephen Harding said the combination of characters seemed best suited for Simon's 1985 rewrite.

“The jokes are a little different,” Harding said. “It's a well-known show, but it's fresh because it's women and it's a little more modern.”

Rafferty, who previously starred in Magnolia Arts' “Almost Maine,” said Simon's second version of “The Odd Couple” did more than give men's roles to women.

“He managed to make the female characters basically the same characters as in the original but also uniquely female,” she said. “There are not just the male lines with different names on them.”

In Act I, the conversation is quite literally all over the board as the women talk about varying Trivial Pursuit topics.

“What closes when a frog swallows?” Vera reads from a card.

“His eyes, they close their eyes,” Renee answers.

“That's right. How did you know that?” Mickey chimes in

“I went out with a guy who looked like a frog,” Renee quips.

Myers, who previously portrayed Olive in “The Odd Couple” in Colorado, said the characters flow from topic to topic with ease, the same way women often do in conversation.

“We're unique and the way we relate to each other is different because we just feel that we can talk about anything at any given moment,” she said. “The play is the same. You could be talking about marriage and the next minute you’re talking about pregnancy and the next minute you're talking about romance. They just hop from one thing to another.”

Four of the six women in the cast have performed together before.

Pittman, who said she auditioned on a whim, is a newcomer to the Magnolia stage but not to area theater. She recently had roles in "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change” at Arts of the Pamlico and Alternative Stage's "Otis loves Olive.”

She initially hoped to play Olive in “The Odd Couple as well” but welcomes the challenge of bringing a different female character to the stage.

“I think it's important to be able to portray such a strong female cast,” Pittman said. “It just says a lot for our community.

“Not that the men's version wouldn't be awesome,” she said, “but I think a woman-dominated play is what people need to see right now.”

If you go 

Magnolia Arts Center, 1703 E. 14th St., will present Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple”(female version) at 7:30 p.m. today-Saturday and Oct. 11-13. Matinee performances will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday and Oct. 13.

Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. The play is rated PG-13 for profanity and suggestive language.

Visit magnoliaartscenter.com.

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