Watching Maui OnStage's production of "The Odd Couple" (Female Version) at the Historic Iao Theater is a lot like kicking back on a comfy couch watching your favorite sitcom. The only thing missing is the annoying commercials.
Line for line, the laughs keep coming - before you can straighten out your smile, it's time to smile again!
Mark Collmer directs a small crew of talented Maui actors in this Neil Simon comedy. Camille Romero is well-suited as the laid-back, wisecracking, hopelessly messy Olive Madison. And Jennifer Rose is a masterpiece as her prim, fretful, obsessively tidy roommate, Florence Ungar.
Maui OnStage photo
Camille Romero (left) and Jennifer Rose have a ball with Neil Simon’s hilarious script.
Our first glimpse of the set (designed by Caro Walker) reveals the slothful nature of Olive's character. The homey living room is strewn with blankets, cushions, empty pizza boxes and clutter on every surface - more like a bachelor pad than the home of an estranged wife.
But Olive is at ease in the chaos, jovially bringing stale chips and warm soda to her Trivial Pursuit buddies gathered around the table. Costume designer Kathleen Schultz has fun with outfits pulled straight from the '80s: a hot pink belt and matching pumps on girly Renee (Jesse Rogers); maroon workout pants on ditzy Vera (Tasha Bradon); and a black jumpsuit with shoulder pads and gold spangles on the tough-talking, cigarette-smoking Sylvia (Kathy Collins). Secure in her navy uniform, Beth Garrow is terrific as Mickey, a worldly cop who's also a caring friend.
When the ladies get the news that Florence's husband, Sydney, is leaving her after 14 years of marriage ("Fourteen years doesn't make you a happy couple; it just makes you a long couple," Mickey points out), they are determined to stay calm on Florence's behalf.
That's a good thing, because we quickly see that Florence is barely keeping it together. Rose's body language is fussy and tight and full of nervous energy as she paces around the stage in impressive stiletto heels. Hilarity ensues as her loving friends try to prevent her from "offing" herself. "Don't try to stop me!" she cries, leading them on a chase around the apartment.
Once things settle down, Olive talks Florence into being her roommate, filling the void left by her husband Phil. It's a nice idea that starts to go wrong within minutes as Florence, babbling about menu-planning, climbs up on the table to dust the chandelier (heels and all).
The rest of the play focuses on their utter incompatibility as Florence slowly drives Olive insane. The actors demonstrate impeccable timing and delivery, with a healthy dose of old-fashioned physical comedy. Rose's gacking "sinus thing" and sudden neck spasms are a crack-up, as are Romero's one-liners: "This is a date, not a bake-off!"
By the time the date scene arrives, we've had about enough shrill female bickering and are ready for some testosterone. Lighting designer Todd Van Amburgh sets the romantic scene with red-and-blue lighting, sound designer Dawn Kealoha Harper cues up "La Isla Bonita" and boy, do the Costazuela brothers deliver!
Kevin Wilson is the suave, overbearing older brother, Manolo, and Nicholas Batres is the sweet, bumbling younger brother, Jesus. Hair slicked and bright flowers in their buttonholes, the Spanish gentlemen do their best to woo the ladies (with the help of English "cheat sheets" in their pockets) - and all manner of language mishaps and misunderstandings are the comical result.
With numerous props and very active characters, the play requires strong attention to staging, and stage manager Andrea Finkelstein pulls it off smoothly with the help of assistant Vicki Sparkman. Scene changes that tend to run a bit long (even with nostalgic '80s background music) are relieved by Rose coming out to compulsively tidy up the set.
"I can't even have dirty dreams without you coming in and cleaning them up!" Olive complains. A few jokes along those lines are about as racy as it gets, making "The Odd Couple" a good family play for kids old enough to keep up with the fast-flying zingers. Tell them it'll be just like watching TV, with no commercials - and you get to make your own laugh track.
* "The Odd Couple" wraps up its short run this weekend. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for students and seniors, $15 for Sunday matinee; available at If the Shoe Fits in Wailuku, online at www.mauionstage.com, or by calling 242-6969. Dinner theater packages are available on Friday and Saturday for $40 at Caf O'Lei next door; reservations must be paid for in advance by calling 244-8680.