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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘The Odd Couple, the Female Version’ lively in Baileys Harbor

Critic At Large

Rogue Theater

Keri Grimsley, from left, Lori Wier, Lola DeVillers, Chris Milton, Jennifer Birkholz and Jamie Buesing rehearse a scene of a game of Trivial Pursuit for the Rogue Theater production of “The Odd Couple, the Female Version.” (Troupe photo)

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BAILEYS HARBOR, Wis. (WFRV)

One of the cleverest twists in popular comedy theater is what Neil Simon did. He took “The Odd Couple,” repeated some of its dialogue and situations and put new spins on his hit in “The Odd Couple, the Female Version.”

The retooled play is a bit more earthy, has a slightly different dynamic and contains a “date night” scene that is just as good as the original, if not better.

Rogue Theater of Door County is taking on the comedy for the next two weekends in the auditorium of Baileys Harbor Town Hall.

The production is elemental community theater. For starters, the auditorium has no theatrical lighting, so one set of lights is shone on the stage.

Also elemental: The players like to act and create a sense that they want to get into what their characters and this play have to offer.

On opening night Thursday, performances at first leaned toward over-acting, but then a rhythm set in. Things rolled, and then “date night” became the clincher for fun.

The story: Two marriages are on the rocks, one of a slop and one of a fussbudget. Each is smart, just on a different track. They know each other through a weekly get-together of friends playing a game and sharing each other’s company and just being who they are. The slop has a large New York apartment, and the fussbudget has just been kicked out by the spouse for being just too, too, too much to take.

This worked for Neil Simon with guys, so he came along 20 years later and refashioned his play with the characters being women.

Certain things remain the same. One example: For the game-players, the slob offers sandwiches – one brown inside, one green. What’s the green? The slob says, “Either new cheese or old meat.” When the game-players complain about the staleness of what’s offered, the slob strikes back and demands six buck each for the “buffet.”

One change in the re-do is poker has been replaced by Trivial Pursuit as the game. The nature of some of the questions sometimes leads to double-entendre meanings. Hormones are more present in this version.

This production features Jamie Buesing as the come see come saw Olive Madison, whose gambling-busted husband phones whining for money handouts, and Lola DeVillers as the uptight Florence Unger, whose fed-up husband showed her the door after two kids and 14 years. There are dramatic elements to the play.

After sending a suicide telegram, Florence has shown up at the door of Olive on game night. All the friends are worried to the hilt, one quirky person after the other – gruff cop Mickey (Chris Milton), chain-smoking Sylvie (Lori Wier, who nails crankiness), blunt nurse Renee (Keri Grimsley) and cheapskate Vera (Jennifer Birkholz). The players are into this being an excitable, comical crowd – the inanities at the gaming table, the grumbling about Olive’s “menu,” the reactions to Florence been oh so much of a load as a human being.

Much byplay goes on between Olive and Florence, and Thursday night this grew in effectiveness. Scenes crackled as Lola DeVillers and Jamie Buesing had at it as opposites colliding, Jamie Buesing especially holding on to a New York dialect.

Things really heat up when Manolo Costanzuela (Stuart Champeau) and his brother, Jesus (Make Keene), are invited for a date with Florence making a fancy meal. The brothers from Spain are jolly, laugh-happy charmers, and laughter rolls (by them and the audience) as conversations tumble about mistaken words. Nicknames come up. Florence mistakenly becomes “Fly” instead of Flo. Jesus knows enough that he will become “Ha,” following the Spanish pronunciation for his name. Stuart Champeau, Make Keene, Lola DeVillers and Jamie Buesing sparkle in this sequence.

The biggest change in “The Odd Couple” comes at the end, with this version taking a different direction for Olive than for the original’s Oscar. That’s tempered by the finale – the game players breaking into the Frankie Valli hit, “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

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Creative: Playwright – Neil Simon; director – Stuart Champeau; set designer – Lola DeVillers; stage manager – Mary Caroline Wilkerson; lights – Stuart Champeau, Clara Birkholz; sound – Mary Caroline Wilkerson

Cast:

Olive Madison – Jamie Buesing

Florence Unger – Lola DeVillers

Mickey – Chris Milton

Sylvie – Lori Wier

Renee – Keri Grimsley

Vera – Jennifer Birkholz

Manolo Costazuela – Stuart Champeau

Jesus Costazuela – Make Keene

Running time: Two hours, 35 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 23-24; 2 p.m. Aug. 25; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29-31; 2 p.m. Sept. 1

Info: (920) 818-0816

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VENUE: Baileys Harbor Town Hall auditorium is located in the Baileys Harbor Town Hall-McArdle Library building, 2392 County F, Baileys Harbor. Built in the 1930s, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. The multipurpose auditorium includes a stage on its south side. The proscenium stage is raised three feet above the main floor, which is of light hardwood akin to wood found on a bowling alley. The stage is approximately 20 by 10 feet. Yellow/gold stage curtains fringe the performance space, with dark laminate wood serving as the stage’s lower facing. At the rear of the stage in each corner are two dark brown doors that appear to be of the building’s vintage. On the ceiling is a roll-up screen for film/slide presentations, with its cord hanging over the stage. For “The Odd Couple, the Female Version,” seating is on folding or straight-back movable chairs.

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