WBU theatre tackles Simon classic with a feminine twist 

February 12, 2010

PLAINVIEW – Put two people with totally different tastes, behaviors and personalities together in a small apartment and stressful situations are likely to ensue. So also do some very funny moments, and that study in human nature is what American playwright Neil Simon literally banked on when he penned The Odd Couple in 1965.

Wayland Baptist University theatre director Dr. Marti Runnels is banking on a similar reaction when he brings the play to the WBU stage for the homecoming production, with performances Feb. 25-28. Only Runnels’ version will have a twist.

The Broadway play that boasted 966 performances and a number of revivals over the decades then became a film, then a popular television sitcom starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall as the roommates.

About 20 years after the original play was written, Simon must have hit on the fact that two women living together might produce similar comedy, and thus The Odd Couple female version was born. That play had 295 performances on Broadway, with Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno in the starring roles.

It is that classic offspring that Runnels is bringing to Plainview, mostly for practical reasons.

“Due to the rise and fall of junctures, I have a lot more ladies in the theatre department right now than men, so I needed shows that would work with that,” Runnels explained.

A fan of Simon’s work and his classic comedic masterpiece, Runnels decided to put his female actors in the spotlight and pull the female version of The Odd Couple out of the shelves.

“Simon is obviously the premier American comic writer of the last 60 years or so and one of a few with a theatre named after him,” Runnels notes of the playwright. “From its earliest days, this play has been popular with audiences.”

Runnels notes that while the play is definitely a comedy, like many pieces of that genre there is some undertone of seriousness that makes audiences think a bit more than an outright farce.

“All comedy is like that – dealing with something serious but being silly to cope with it at times,” Runnels said.

The play deals with two women who are friends and through a separation, they end up as roommates. Though the two know they are not the ideal pair to share a living space, necessity dictates they make the best of the situation.

Runnels said the play reminds him of his own dormitory situation while a freshman at Baylor, thrown in a room with two other males who he said “could not have been more opposite each other.”

“That time in my life was sometimes really funny, but sometimes we wanted to kill each other,” he laughs.

Runnels said the cast does include two males – the Costasuela brothers from Spain – but otherwise, the cast of friends is female. Felix and Oscar are replaced by Florence and Olive, played by Sarah Buckland and Amanda Allen, respectively. Both are theatre majors and veterans of the WBU stage, with Sarah playing one of the lead roles in last year’s Frame 312 and both racking up several supporting roles in three years at Wayland.

Florence is a neat freak who loves to cook, wants everything tidy in the apartment and can lean to the hypochondriac side. Olive, on the other hand, is more laid back and easy going, not as prone to kitchen work and cleanliness.

Besides the leading ladies, the cast is rounded out with friends Sylvie, played by theatre major sophomore Leslie Gatlin; Mickey, played by senior Katie Hon; Renee, played by junior theatre major Rachel Steed; and Vera, played by junior Rachel Janney. Chris Tarver and Jake Miser play Manola and Jose Costasuela.

Corinna Browning is stage manager, with Jon Lennon on lights and Karli Wilbourn on sound. Costumes and makeup are by Michael Callahan, with several helping with props.

Performances are slated for 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for students. For more information or for reservations, call the box office at 291-1089.