For the last thirty years, comedy writer Neil Simon has reigned as the king of America's community-theater circuit, where his plays are a favorite choice of groups strapped for cash, talent and time. Amateur performers need only speak the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright's lines clearly and distinctly in order to evoke hearty laughter from an audience. Volunteer directors find that the simpler their approach to a Simon script, the better their production plays to a crowd. And neophyte designers can easily create Simon's realistic stage environments with secondhand furniture.
Community theaters, of course, feature a vast spectrum of talent and ability. One such diverse group is Boulder's Dairy Center for the Arts, which is currently hosting a Director's Theater production of Simon's The Odd Couple--The Female Version.
Under the direction of James Carver, a cast of eight dedicated performers brings boundless energy to the 1985 rewrite of Simon's famous play. This time around, the venerable Felix and Oscar have been replaced by Florence (Pamyla Stiehl) and Olive (Kate Fotopoulos). Surrounded by four female friends who play Trivial Pursuit and doted on by their two testosterone-laden Spanish neighbors, Florence (a neatnik) and Olive (a slob) carry out a love-hate relationship in much the same manner as did Felix and Oscar in Simon's original 1965 Broadway production.
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True to its subtitle, this is a play with a distinctly female point of view. And owing to Simon's laughter-through-tears look at human relationships, this girl-talk version actually works better and is funnier than the male-oriented original. Carver and his cast remain faithful to Simon's obser-vations, eliciting both good-natured laughter and thoughtful reflection over the course of 150 minutes. In particular, the girls' scene with their cheap-suited dates from Espana features side-splitting hilarity that is Simon at his comedic best.
The production unfortunately is plagued with a few dead silences in which the actors stare blankly at each other as if to say, "Is it your line next?" And a few portrayals epitomize the bluster of caricature rather than the artistry of character. All in all, though, the cast members manage to pull off the trick central to all of Simon's plays of the past fifteen or twenty years: paying tribute to the playwright's handful of weighty ideas while keeping his trademark comedy at center stage. Which is no mean feat for a community theater.
The Odd Couple--The Female Version, presented by the Director's Theatre through February 7 at the Guild at the Dairy, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 499-5552.