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Audiences laugh their way through “The Odd Couple/Female Version”

Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple/Female Version,” opened at the Golden Chain Theatre last weekend, fulfilling the need for some humor by those attending.

The original version of The Odd Couple got a whole new look in 1985 when Simon re-wrote his original smash hit for a female cast. The neurotic, fastidiously clean Felix Unger, and the sloppy, casual roommate Oscar Madison, became Florence Unger, and Olive Madison.

After the classic 1968 movie starring Jack Lemmon (Felix) and Walter Matthau (Oscar), and television series with Tony Randall, and Jack Klugman, the female version had a successful Broadway run with Sally Struthers (All in the Family) as Florence, and Rita Moreno (West Side Story) playing Olive.

The Golden Chain production, directed by Peter Clarke, has a talented cast that brought Simon’s hilarious, and at times dramatic, words to life.

Cast members include leads Sarah Persson (Florence), and Jennifer Varner (Olive), and supporting cast members Melinda Rich (Mickey), Miranda Simonich (Vera), Stephanie Brock (Sylvie), Judy Weiss (Renee), George Rich (Manolo Costazuela), and Jordan Michel (Jesus Costazuela).

Susan Galley of Coarsegold came to the show with two girlfriends and said all three had a lot of fun, and thought the show was great.

“You can tell by the performance the entire cast has worked really hard to make the show as good as it is,” Galley said. “Olive (Jennifer Varner) was sensational.”

Tanni Chandler said it was fun to see a quality show at the Golden Chain Theatre.

“We loved seeing The Odd Couple/The Female Version,” Chandler said. “I really got a sense of Florence's (Sarah Persson) OCD anxiety, the friends chatter and banter was amusing, and that Vera (Miranda Simonich) was adorable. The scene with the Spanish neighbors (George Rich and Jordan Michel) really had me laughing ... go see it ... go laugh.”

“This play has been a labor of love,” said Clarke. “Last year when Jennifer Picolotti, our artistic director, asked for thoughts on plays, somehow the name Odd Couple came up with the suggestion of the female version. But a script is nothing without a cast and this cast is incredible.”

Varner and Persson play the lead roles of Olive Madison and Florence Unger.

This is the seventh GCT production for Varner, the first in a major role that features her talent for comedy.

“This show is one of the most memorable for me,” Varner said. “This cast has been a blast to work with, and Peter (Clarke) and his assistant Michelle (Niewohner) have done a fabulous job. I feel really lucky to be part of this production.”

“I love playing Florence,” Persson said. “She’s needy, neurotic, and a bit crazy. I’ve had the opportunity to take those traits to another level, which makes playing her a lot of fun.”

Some members of the cast are relatively new to acting. Miranda Simonich previously played the scheming vamp “Clarice” in Bertha the Beautiful Typewriter Girl. As Vera she is the complete opposite.

Simonich is a homeschooling mother of three who is performing in just her second production at the Golden Chain.

“Acting has been a wonderful and very welcoming experience for me,” Simonich said. “I’m having so much fun working with this crazy, crazy cast. I leave rehearsals with my cheeks and my sides hurting from all the laughter. This show is a must see.”

Stephanie Brock, who played the funny role of Mrs. Gloop in “Wonka the Musical,” and also appeared in “Godspell,” plays Sylvie in Odd Couple.

Educator Judy Weiss got into acting on a friend’s recommendation, with the Odd Couple being the second production she has been in.

George Rich who plays Manolo Costazuela, appeared in Godspell and Wardrobe, demonstrating a diverse talent for comedy, serious drama and song. Opposite him, playing younger brother Jesus, is Jordan Michel, an experienced actor.

The performances by Rich and Michel is reminiscent of Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin as the ‘wild and crazy guys’ from the early days of Saturday Night Live.

Rich is a math teacher at Yosemite High School and at the Oakhurst College Center. His wife, Melinda, plays the female version of Murray the Cop, the voice of reason and stability in the play.

“It has been such a fun experience acting with these hilarious ladies and with my Spanish brother, Jordan,” Rich said.

Although with many productions on his resume, it is Michel’s first appearance at the historic Golden Chain.

The Odd Couple/Female Version plays at 7 p.m., Fridays, and Saturdays, Aug. 21 and 22, and Aug. 28 and 29, with a 2 p.m. performance Sundays, Aug. 23, and Aug. 30.

Details: Golden Chain Theatre, 42130 Highway 41, Oakhurst: Tickets: $15 general, $12 seniors, $10 students and military, $8 children (4-12). Group rates available. Reserve seats at goldenchaintheatre.org, or (559) 683-7112.

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