REVIEW: Odd Couple Brought Us Together for a Night

Seated Left to Right:
Mellisa Stein as Olive Madison
Fran Loper as Renee’
Susan Kovacs as Sylvie
Joanne Dean as Mickey
Sherri DeMarino as Vera
Christy Iversen as Florence Unger
Travis Handy, Stage Manager & Stage Hand
Standing Left to Right:
Kevin Schwenk, Hair & Make up
Victor Abrahamian as Manolo Constazuela
Clelia Sheppard, Director, Set Design & Decor
J.P. Pare as Jesus Constazuela
Rachel Attenberg, Stage Hand
Not pictured:
Chris & Walt Rool, Photograhy
Richard Spano, Lighting Tech
Rob Colls-CCC Renovations, Set Construction


March 29, 2014

The play The Odd Couple premiered on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on March 10, 1965, and later moved to the Eugene O’Neill Theatre where it closed on July 2, 1967 after 964 performances and two previews. Directed by Mike Nichols, the original cast starred Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison and Art Carney as Felix Ungar. The Nichols show produced Tony Awards for Walter Matthau as Best Actor, as well as Best Author for Simon, Best Direction of a Play for Nichols, and Best Scenic Design for Oliver Smith. In 1968, the film version, starring Matthau and Jack Lemon, cemented the iconic characters of Oscar Madison and Felix Unger. In 1970, the television show starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall forever wove Oscar and Felix into the American consciousness.

The beauty of theater is that it is never static, whether it is recreating the Oresteia Trilogy, or Hamlet, or The Sound of Music. There’s always something new, a different angle, a new way to be fresh. That is just what we saw this last weekend with the Palace Theatre’s brilliant production of The Odd Couple: Female Version. Great productions always start at the top, and Clelia Shepherd’s vision, wit, and charm created the perfect pallet. The production had a firm, even pace, allowing each actor the room to breathe and find their space within this rather daunting script.

This version of the Odd Couple differed from many I have scene, due to its visual brilliance — the actors literally popped on the stage, and the credit for this goes to one of the most talented and underrated artists on the Shore — the Palace Theatre costume mistress, Vera Miller. After every show, I always tell myself, there’s no way she’ll ever be able to top that, but somehow she always does, whether it is pitch-perfect historical such as Oliver or Piece of Eden, or the flat-out brilliance and style of Seussical the Musical. Here, once again, her eye was spot on. Working with Ms. Miller, Kevin Schwenk’s great work with hair and make-up truly lent an air of authenticity to the show.

The beauty of the Odd Couple is that it plays to America’s greatest theatrical strength — the ensemble comedic cast, and that strength was exploited to the fullest by Ms. Shepherd. The heart of the Odd Couple is the friendship and camaraderie that exists among the characters, especially when they meet for the weekly card games. In the female version, poker is exchanged for Trivial Pursuit, a savvy twist by the author, opening the door for numerous one-liners and zingers.


Beloved by many is the character of Murray the cop, in this case Mickey the cop, played with verve, fun, and power by Joanne Dean. Ms. Dean firmly captured the NYC police cynicism, while remaining a caring member of the group.

Fran Loper brought just the right amount of upbeat hopelessness to the role of Renee. Her forlorn tale of love to the “Doctor” was laced perfectly with just the right amount of buoyancy and giving up.

When I said earlier that the actors popped, no one popped more than Sherri DeMarino as the bubbly Vera. With a violent ginger hairdo that took hours to curl, and the brightest clothes west of Broadway, Ms. DeMarino’s performance brought a perfect blend of lightness, ditziness, and bemused, bubbleheaded fun to a group that the author always has teetering on the edge of depression (these Friday night games are, of course, their respite). Always fresh, always new, DeMarino once again did not disappoint.

At this point, what can we say about Susan Kovacs? Over the years, she has shown us so many levels of talent and erected such a body of work, whether it’s Noel Coward, Shakespeare, or Neil Simon, that she deserves a permanent standing ovation. As the sweet, cynical Sylvie, Kovacs again ruled the stage with pace, intuition, light, timing, fun, and personality. In a word: Professional.

When long time favorites JP Pare and Victor Abrahamian entered the stage as the Constazuela brothers, the only thing I can say is: Gangbusters. When you talk about stage presence, or the take, you realize that that is something you can’t teach — you either have it or you don’t, and Pare and Abrahamian really have it. When they came out, the audience erupted in laughter, even before they said a word. The hard work and talent of these men really showed, as they were able to carry what I have always considered to be the clumsiest part of the script, with a lightness and charm that almost distracted you away from Victor’s hairy chest.

Due to the iconic nature of Oscar and Felix, I have always considered these roles to be the toughest to play and overcome. Melissa Stein and Christie Iverson not only overcame the historical weight of Oscar and Felix, but as Olive and Florence, stitched these performances into the American Odd Couple fabric forever. Think about it — as an actor, how do you overcome Tony Randall’s version of Felix clearing his nasal passages? Somehow, Ms. Iverson overcame the Randall version, and posited her own blithe, ludicrous, and utterly pleasing interpretation. Silly, caring, neurotic — Iverson brought it all, giving us one of our favorite “Felix Ungers” yet.

In the past few years I have had a chance to work with the talented Melissa Stein, and I can say her theater expertise, savvy, and craft is only matched by her caring and dedication to Arts Enter and the Palace Stage — and more importantly, to all the young kids she has worked with during summer theater camps and the ongoing musical theater workshop she now runs. It was this purity of spirit that flowed from the center of her character. Her role as Olive was pitched perfect, deftly walking the line between the love and frustration that defines the relationship of Oscar and Felix. I can only describe Stein and Iverson together as a triumph.

So many times, we focus solely on the actors, but there is so much more that goes into a successful production. Behind the scenes, it is the technical crew that truly brings it all together (yes David Glowacki, we all still think of you when those lights come on, and that phone rings on the stage). One more time, Richard Spano has come across the Bay to bring his insight, knowledge, and experience to our theater. Always on cue, never missing a beat, Mr. Spano is always there for the actors, providing the light and sound they need to carry out the task. Stage managers Travis Handy and Rachel Attenburg may have been dressed in black, but the professional way they set and struck the stage was not invisible to many of us. Chris and Walt Rool again provided classy photography and video (courtesy of Shore Fire Productions).

I don’t want to leave without talking about one last character: the apartment. Ms. Shepherd again wowed us, as she has so many times before, with a stunning and resplendent set design and decor. Designing is one thing, but bringing it to life is another. Set construction by Rob Colls (of CCC Renovations), Carlos Erazo, and Victor Abrahamian was flawless.

The Arts Enter mission is to encourage and promote education, interest, and appreciation for the Fine and Performing Arts for an under-served and geographically isolated community. Nothing seems to sum this up more than this performance. Away from the bickering, politics, and budget battles, this cast brought all of us together for a night. As the last scene highlighted, it’s the being together, remembering who we are and why we were friends in the first place, as well as the positive effects we can each have on each other, which really matters. Thank you, Arts Enter, for bringing us the Odd Couple, and reminding us of that.



4 Responses to “REVIEW: Odd Couple Brought Us Together for a Night”

  1. Tony Stein on March 29th, 2014 3:34 am

    I stumbled upon this while browsing the web. I love the twist that’s been put on this classic. Sounds like a fantastic show and I wish I lived close enough to see it (I’m in the UK). Fancy touring? :-)

  2. Bo Brady on March 29th, 2014 5:19 pm

    A fantastic show all around — it had me laughing from start to finish! I loved it and I would love to see it again.

  3. Sherri DeMarino on March 29th, 2014 8:48 pm

    For those of you interested, we will be doing the “Odd Couple the Female Version” again this summer — July 12, 13, 14!

  4. Suzanne Goeren on March 30th, 2014 6:57 pm

    So wish I could have been there –coming in the 16th of April — won’t you do it again? I have been a personal and longtime friend of Susan Kovacs and have had firsthand enjoyment of her personality, singing career (even sang at my wedding), and have been so excited to see her strengths used yet again in the many performances she has helped bring to life, either acting, directing or adding her personal touch to just about everything. This is a wonderful play and sounded like it had tremendous success! Bravo to all of you!