Summer stock is alive and well and living in Beach Haven, New Jersey. Long Beach Island is where you’ll find the Surflight Theatre and a repertory of seventies sitcom stars and an assortment of other television personalities appearing bi and tri-weekly in well-known plays and musicals. Through this weekend, a golden opportunity is available for the taking at the Surflight, the female version of Neil Simon’s classic play, The Odd Couple. The show’s stars are Joanne Worley (of Laugh-In)and one-half of Laverne and Shirley,Cindy Williams. Misses Worley and Williams are in fighting form and from the moment they set foot onstage, they have the audience eating out of the palms of their hands.
While this Odd Couple may not be the Odd Couple you know, it’s still the same premise. In this female version set in 1985, when Neil Simon updated it, grouchy, Olive Madison (Cindy Williams) is a television news producer, recently divorced from her gambler husband Stanley, who is always in the red. She is lonely in her cluttered Riverside Drive apartment. Enter best friend Florence Unger (Joanne Worley), the complete opposite of Olive; Florence is a hypochondriac; when she clears her sinuses, she could easily be mistaken for Tarzan; she walks around with a box of Kleenex in her purse, among other laughter inducing eccentricities. Arriving on Olive’s doorstep on the night of the girls’ weekly Trivial Pursuit game (poker in the 1965 male version), Florence is suicidal (she has just broken up with her husband Sidney) and Olive takes her in and that’s when the fun really begins and the clash of the personalities begin.
Although, one may think that The Odd Couple might be victim to overexposure (the films, the TV series), this female version, colors the story and with the characters being Olive and Florence, rather than Oscar and Felix, a poignancy in the play is brought out, that was not there before. Additionally, as the sexes have changed, so have the neighbors whom Olive and Florence hope to seduce. The English Pigeon sisters in the original become the exotic Castilian Costazuela brothers, Jesus and Manolo, (Ruben Ortiz and Jonathan Weiner). However, the quartet of girlfriends playing Trivial Pursuit still does include a cop (like in the original). Ably supporting Worley and Williams as Olive and Florence’s friends are June Gable as the chain smoking, blonde, sexpot Sylvie, Lynn-Marie Stewart as the scatter-brained, red-headed Vera, Sandy Rosenberg as the matter-of-fact, cop, Mickey and Megan Thomas as Renee. They are all brilliant in their roles, but at times the play does cross the line into sitcom territory and certain scenes would fit in nicely with The Golden Girls.
Now, Joanne Worley and Cindy Williams are magnificent, squeezing every laugh out of Neil Simon’s classic play. Joanne Worley, whose comedic antics and mugging alone brings the house down, overshadows her co-star. Unfortunately for Williams, Olive is a thankless part, it has the least laughs, the least opportunity to steal the show and she is really the straight (wo)man to Florence’s flamboyant idiosyncrasies. One would also have expected Cindy Williams to play Florence as she is known for playing the straight-laced Shirley on Laverne and Shirley and Joanne Worley to have played Olive, as she is known for her over the top personality, but this role reversal works. Not only are these two television stars part of the show, but Lynn-Marie Stewart has television pedigree as well, having played Miss Yvonne on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. The cast really is spectacular, especially when Joanne Worley is doing one of her funny routines, be it tossing Kleenex around the stage, eating it or modulating her fantastic voice. Of course, much credit is due to production stage manager Bill Gilinsky, who manages the quick set redressing and director Billy Van Zandt who has gotten such great performances out of his cast and has directed such nuanced physical comedy bits.
Surflight Theatre said that this show has been their top-seller of the past two seasons and is helping to bring them back from the brink of bankruptcy. It would be great if theatres in Northern New Jersey would consider bringing in stars from television, such as, Joanne Worley and Cindy Williams, whom people obviously want to see and start up summer seasons. It would be to their benefit and it would most definitely be to your benefit to take the lovely two hour drive down to Beach Haven and the Surflight Theatre (steps away from the beach) to see Joanne Worley and Cindy Williams in The Odd Couple.
For Your Information:
Surflight Theatre is located at 201 Engleside Avenue, Beach Haven, NJ
For tickets, dial 609.492.9477. or visit www.surflight.org.