As a young man, Peter Clarke remembers seeing the 1968 Neil Simon movie “The Odd Couple,” the comedy about two totally opposite roommates starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Lemmon played the fastidiously clean Felix Unger, and Matthau played opposite him as the sloppy Oscar Madison.
Like so many others, Clarke he liked the movie, especially Matthau for his dry wit, lopsided smirk, and slouch delivery.
“He definitely was a tailor made Oscar Madison,” Clarke said.
The original version of “The Odd Couple” got a major make-over in 1985 when Simon re-wrote it for a female cast. The neurotic Felix became Florence, and the casual Oscar became Olive Madison. The English Pigeon sisters were transformed into the Spanish Costazuela brothers, and instead of poker, the girls gather to play Trivial Pursuit.
The female version of the show had a very successful Broadway run of 295 performances with Sally Struthers (All in the Family) as Florence, and Rita Moreno (West Side Story) playing Olive.
Clarke now finds himself, 40-plus years after seeing the movie, directing The Odd Couple/Female Version that opens Friday at the Golden Chain Theatre.
“I am grateful and honored to have been given the chance to direct this play,” Clarke said. “I have seldom laughed as hard as I did reading the script while on a plane to Dallas.”
Clarke said after weeks of rehearsal, the play is ready and Mountain Area residents are going to love seeing it.
“I wish I could get this cast a full house for every performance because they deserve it,” Clarke said.
Simon’s humor comes from the difficulties human beings have maintaining relationships. The women bicker, snipe and complain. Some of them don’t even particularly like each other. Men are, for the most part, a topic full of confusion, frustration and unhappiness – only Vera, played by Miranda Simonich, in her blissful lack of awareness, seems content with her marriage.
The Golden Chain cast is made up of a diverse and talented cast whose chemistry has brought the hilarious, yet often touching, humor of Simon’s play fully alive.
Cast members include co-stars Sarah Persson (Florence), and Jennifer Varner (Olive), alongside supporting cast members Melinda Rich (Mickey), Miranda Simonich (Vera), Stephanie Brock (Sylvie), Judy Weiss (Renee), George Rich (Manolo Costazuela), and Jordan Michael (Jesus Costazuela).
Clarke said Persson and Varner have turned their exchanges into something that is greater than what is in the script.
“I hope Jennifer and I have found ways to do this show justice,” Persson said. “My character Florence Unger is very uptight and high maintenance. It’s been fun to play such a neurotic person.” The Spanish brothers are hilarious, and the other girls are equally fabulous.”
Persson said Clarke has done a great job putting the cast together.
“We all get along really well and it comes across on stage,” Persson said. “Peter took a lot of time on the set and props to give the audience the feeling they are in the apartment with us.”
Persson, vice president of the Golden Chain’s board of directors, has previously appeared in “Shagwoods Secret,” “Jack the Ripper,” “The Ladies of Tin Pan Alley,” “Miracle Worker,” “Angel Street,” and “Murderous Crossing.”
Varner, a huge fan of playwright Simon, said she is thrilled to be playing the role of Olive Madison.
“Neil Simon’s ability to mix comedy into real life scenarios has been incredible over the years,” Varner said. “The female version set in the 80s is a refreshing take to the classic Odd Couple story. We are so excited to share this show with the community.”
Varner’s Golden Chain credits include “That Should Have Won A Tony,” “Harvey,” “Dark Deeds At Swan’s Place,” “Miracle Worker,” and “The Ladies of Tin Pan Alley.”
“I do not exaggerate when I say they take it to a very high level of comedy,” Clarke stated. “Putting Sarah and Jennifer together has created comedy fireworks.”
Clarke said Rich and Michael, playing the Costazuela brothers, are fine actors with great rapport, and an instinct for comedy.
The original movie was followed by the television version starring Tony Randall, and Jack Klugman.
The show opens at 7 p.m., Friday, and Saturday, Aug. 14 and 15, with a 2 p.m. show Sunday, Aug. 16. Additional performances Aug. 21-23, and Aug. 28-30.
Details: Golden Chain Theatre, 42130 Highway 41 - $15 general, $12 seniors, $10 students and military. Reserve seats at goldenchaintheatre.org, or (559) 683-7112.
“Fiddler on the Roof” auditions
Auditions will be held at the Golden Chain at 5:30 p.m., on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 17 and 18, for “Fiddler On The Roof,” which will run in November. The show will be directed by Jennifer Piccolotti, with musical direction by James Mierkey, assisted by Melinda Rich.
Details: Piccolotti, (559) 760-8523, Facebook page Fiddler Auditions at GCT.