Thursday, February 18, 2016

The odds are excellent

Grrls rule at Claire vg
by Christopher Key

If Neil Simon had never written anything but The Odd Couple, he still would have become a showbiz industry on his own.  Not to mention being able to retire in more comfort than most of us will ever know.  We’re talkin’ a two year run on Broadway with multiple Tonys, a hit film, a hit TV series, performances by every community theatre on earth, and, of course, the female version.

Simon himself revised his original script in 1985 to include the ladies (I use the term loosely) and that version also had a respectable Broadway run with Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno.  Director Alan Peet has brought the distaff adaptation to Claire vg Thomas Theatre in Lynden and it’s way better than the female version of The Clinton Administration.

Peet knows that 90 percent of directing is casting the right people and he did that with bells on.  Our Felix and Oscar are now Florence and Olive, played by Teri Grimes and Laura Nelson.  No one even remotely familiar with local theatre should need an introduction to these two.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Grimes, of course, is the legendary drama teacher at Bellingham High School who has more students in professional theatre than Stanislavski.  Now that she’s retired, she’s got more time to act and that’s like winning Lotto on your birthday.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Nelson, a self-described “church lady,” has never let that interfere with her theatrical adventures, including a truly nasty turn as a rock singer in Evermore.  She and Grimes work together like nitric acid and glycerine.  KA-BOOM!

Photo credit - Christopher Key

The clash between the slob and the neatnik has become so much a part of our cultural heritage that one forgets it was originated by Simon and not Shakespeare or Sophocles.

In the male version of The Odd Couple, the story centers around a weekly poker game amongst the boys.  In the female version, it’s Trivial Pursuit and that, if you’ll excuse the expression, is a game changer.  The question-and-answer format provides some delicious moments that the grrls make the most of.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

The Grrls are Melissa Nienhuis as Sylvie; Amy Landino as Renee; Susan Duncan as Mickey; and Terry Sacks as Vera.  As Sacks said to me after the show, “There is nothing like working in an ensemble.”  Not much I can add except that the ensemble is brilliant.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

In the male version of OC, Felix and Oscar romance the ditzy Brit Pigeon Sisters.  In the female version, they become the equally ditzy Spanish Costazuela Brothers, Manolo and Hay-Zoos.  With a J.  Larrin Weidenaar and Evan Ricci are superb as Spanish stereotypes that only Simon could get away with without being pilloried.

Director Peet also designed the set, which is a work of art on its own.  Beth Vonnegut designed the perfect costumes and Laura Nelson’s hubby Steve runs the sound and light board.  Jon Oesting, a legend in his own mind, is guilty of the lovely light design.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Quite frankly, the female version of The Odd Couple is like a hot shower on a cold winter’s day.  The feeling is familiar, but made so much more enjoyable by the contrast.  I don’t unconditionally love shows very often.  I love this one.

The Odd Couple performs February 18 through March 6 at the Claire vg Thomas Theatre, 655 Front Street in Lynden.  Tickets are available by calling (360) 354-4425 or online at

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