The Art Beat

Very Odd Indeed

Judson Theatre produces Neil Simon classic

By Jim Moriarty

What happens when two divorced women move in together? You could go to Netflix and watch Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau to get an inkling or, if you want to really know, you can go to the Judson Theatre Company’s production of Neil Simon’s female version of The Odd Couple March 26-29 at the Bradshaw Performing Arts Center at Sandhills Community College.

Simon’s female version of his timeless comedy debuted on Broadway in 1985 with the lead characters transformed into Olive Madison and Florence Unger. When Florence is unceremoniously ditched by her husband, she shows up at Olive’s rather untidy apartment, where the girls are engaged in a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit. Concerned that Florence might be suicidal, Olive takes her in. But these are two women with very, very different personalities. The rest is classic Neil Simon, not recycled but reimagined.

Olive is being played by Amanda Bearse, best known for her portrayal of Marcy D’Arcy in over 250 episodes of Married . . . with Children. Bearse was most recently the director of an off-Broadway play, Party Face, produced by Judson’s founder, Morgan Sills. “We had Hayley Mills dedicated to this final week when we lost not only our standby, which is the word for understudy now, but one of the actresses, too,” Bearse says. “Long story short, I ended up on stage. I hadn’t been on stage in decades. I quit acting after Married . . . with Children in order to be taken seriously in Hollywood as a director. I got this little opportunity with six or seven performances. I had a blast and was reminded how much fun it is. So, I kind of put the energy out there to Morgan. ‘When are you going to ask me to come down there?’ You have to be careful what you ask for. So, I guess I have to get new headshots. I’m an actor again.”

Bearse, who is back in Southern California, had been teaching at the Seattle Film Institute. “The female version of Odd Couple is something that I came to just in the last few years. So, when Morgan brought it up, I said I’m familiar with that play,” she says. “Florence is wound up pretty tight, a lot like the character I did on Married . . . with Children. That might be the most expected way to see me. I like to shake things up a little bit, and I said I would love to play Olive.”

Teresa Ganzel, who has appeared with actors like Jackie Gleason, Richard Pryor, Lynn Redgrave, Carol Burnett, Jean Smart, Jim Carrey, Bob Newhart and on and on, performed previously in Pinehurst as Truvy in Judson Theatre’s production of Steel Magnolias. “I was doing Viagra Falls — yes, it’s a comedy — and Morgan told me he’d seen the show and that he was doing Steel Magnolias, and he thought I’d be great in the Dolly Parton part,” she says. “I said, ‘Are you kidding? I’d love to do that part.’ So, that’s how it happened. I loved Pinehurst, too, so that whole experience, I just really enjoyed it. Now, here it is, six years later and he asked if I’d like to do the female Odd Couple and I said, of course. The weird thing, too, is I’d never seen a production of the Odd Couple, male or female. I see a lot of theater and it’s such a classic play, you would have thought I would have. I’m loving the fact that it’s sort of new to me.”

Sills, the executive producer, is joined once again by artistic director Daniel Haley. “We had done so well with Plaza Suite with Eve Plumb and Rex Smith, and with The Sunshine Boys with Robert Wuhl and Don Most, that we wanted to do another Neil Simon. Our audiences love it,” says Sills. “The female Odd Couple seemed to be the next logical progression because Love, Loss and What I Wore by Nora Ephron had done so well.

“Also, we knew we could cast it really well. To have Teresa come back and have Amanda come down to North Carolina, they’re both friends. They’re wonderful on stage and off. I knew it would be an unbeatable combination, that they’ll be hysterically funny in this show. No laughs get by these two.”

Performances at BPAC are Thursday, March 26, at 7 p.m.; Friday, March 27, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 28, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and a final matinee on Sunday, March 29, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $38 in advance or $45 at the door ($25 for military or students) and are available online at Judsontheatre.com. All seating is general admission.  PS

Jim Moriarty is the senior editor of PineStraw and can be reached at jjmpinestraw@gmail.com.

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