Royal Players present female version of Simon’s classic play

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published February 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 22, 2013 at 11:00 a.m.
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Wayne Bryan

Susie Everett, left, as Olive Madison, is about to explode over the excesses of cleaning-obsessed Florence Unger, played by Daphne Shoppach, during a rehearsal of The Odd Couple (Female Version). A women’s version of the Neil Simon play about the friendship between a slob and her very different roommate opens March 7 at the Royal Theatre in downtown Benton.

“It’s so familiar but also very different,” director Gina Welch said during a rehearsal of the next production opening at the Royal Theatre in Benton on March 7.

The Odd Couple, written in 1965 by award-winning playwright Neil Simon, was a big success, spanning two films and two television series, a made-for-TV movie and a cartoon series. The story of two friends, but so very different, trying to share an apartment was so beloved that in 1985, Simon wrote a version of the play centered on two women.

Aptly named The Odd Couple (Female Version), the work has the same story and the same characters, but instead of the familiar Oscar and Felix, the story centers on Olive Madison and Florence Ungar. The friends who drop by are all women and the dates are the only men in the play.

In the new Royal production, the mismatched friends are played by two of the Benton-based theater troupe’s most popular actresses, Daphne Shoppach (Florence) and Suzie Everett (Olive).

“I didn’t know that the female version existed until a few years ago,” Shoppach said. “It was only when I started reading the script that I saw that he had totally rewritten it for women.”

Susie Everett, in her sixth Royal production, plays the sloppy sportswriter Olive. She said she had to call on some personal memories to get the slovenly mindset of messy Madison.

“I have been sloppy in the past; just ask my mother,” Everett said. “Or ask my college roommate, who started throwing my shoes at me because they were all over our dorm room. I’ve been a teenager and raised teenagers, so I can do messy.”

She said Olive is also grouchy following her divorce and wants to move on with her life. During the rehearsal, Everett, as Olive, is angry, filled with Neil Simon’s biting wit, and very funny.

“Some of the lines are great, like when I try to get Florence to go on a date with me with two Spanish men,” she said. “I tell her, ‘You can have the Spaniard of your choice,’ or when someone else says the air filter is ‘sucking all the air out of the room.’”

Everett said she enjoys the energy she gets from being on the stage.

“It relaxes me because it takes you out of the real world for a while,” she said. “And I love hearing people laugh and knowing I had a part of that.”

As the neatnik Florence, Shoppach said she tried to think of some of the ways she likes things to be “just so” in her life.

“In the morning, I had to have my coffee right here,” she said, moving an imaginary cup on a table on stage. “I

do it that way every day just without thinking. If someone did it differently, I would not understand why they would do such a thing. It can mess up your day, and that is Florence and why she is so often upset.”

The play is set in the 1980s, and director Welch said it has become a period piece “with all the big ugly jewelry and the padded shoulders.”

“It is not a big shock for me,” Shoppach said. “I was in my 20s during the ’80s, so it is not a stretch.”

She said the fashions now look funny, and people who get the ’80s references will have a few more laughs from the play than those who do not remember that decade.

Everett said she still has her ’80s clothes, and she is contributing some of them for costumes for the show. However, she said, Olive is not exactly a model of high ’80s fashion.

“She is kind of man sloppy with baseball caps, Hawaiian

shirts and shorts. She is a sportswriter,” Everett said.

Meanwhile, Florence has been a housewife dedicated to keeping the house clean, something Olive doesn’t understand or even tolerate.

The play keeps many of the scenes from the original male version. However, instead of poker night, the girls come over to play Trivial Pursuit, a very popular game in the 1980s.

“We have all been friends since high school, so we put up with the way Olive and Florence act,” said Twyla Tate, who plays their friend Sylvie. “We just know that is the way Olive and Florence are and go on.”

But along the way, the one-liners and wisecracks are fast and sharp.

The only men in the play are the Constazuela brothers, played by Chris Counts as Manolo and Brian Roberson as Jesus — a name which Florence does not give a Spanish pronunciation and finds inappropriate.

After learning the name, Florence suggests she should prepare loaves and fishes for their guests. After Shoppach said the line, Everett stopped and pointed to her.

“That,” she said, “is the funniest line in the play.”

The Odd Couple (Female Version) plays March 7-10 and March 14-17, at the Royal Theatre on Market Street in downtown Benton. Thursday through Saturday performances start at 7 p.m., and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for students. The theater phone is (501) 315-5484.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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