Fine Comic Relief For Tuesdays

Annapolis Dinner Theater's Female 'Odd Couple' Enlivened By Superb Cast

November 01, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

The folks over at the Annapolis Dinner Theater apparently had some time on their hands early in the week, what with performances of "My Fair Lady" not starting until the Wednesday matinee.

To fill the gap, Tuesday evenings have been designated comedy theater nights. Dinner sandwiches replace the familiar buffet table and the late-week tariff comes down considerably as talented actors take the stage to entertain audiences that have grown steadily over the last few weeks.

From the look of things Tuesday, the theater may have a new hit series to complement its major musical productions. The first entry isa real winner: The female version of Neil Simon's mega-hit, "The OddCouple."

In Simon's own rewrite, Oscar and Felix have been replaced by Olive and Florence. The famous premise remains the same; it's stillthe neatnik vs. the slob. Florence, the compulsive cleaner who's so obnoxiously neurotic that a marriage counselor once threw her out of his office, is splitting up from short, bald Sidney after 14 yearsof marriage.

She is taken in by Olivia, the wise-talking dame who's still enough of a sucker for love to be taken in by her ne'er-do-well ex, whom she still supports.

I like this version better than the Matthau-Lemmon original. Simon's premise wears even better with a bit of '80s female angst sprinkled on top. These women are far more engaging than the guys, who -- let's face it -- were a sit-com waitingto happen. They were funny, but very cliched.

Not so the girls. With Olive, Florence and their very funny friends all hunched over their weekly game of Trivial Pursuit, we feel more. There's hurt, loneliness and a genuine need for love in the air, particularly from Olive -- who is light-years removed from a grubby sportswriter who leaves cigar butts all over the house. Tuesday, there was a real person inside that wedding dress with the Coke stains all over it.

Celia Roccais terrific as Olive. She is a live wire every second she's on stage-- vulnerable in her conversations with the jerk she married, wise-cracking and affectionate with her buddies, and emphatically at her wits' end with the screwball she's allowed to share her house.

EllenSherman is a riot as Florence. She is the national poster child for co-dependency; a funny, self-deprecating neurotic incapable of actingspontaneously or in her own best interest until the very end of the play.

Just as she starts to seem sympathetic, she "does it again" -- making you want to join Olive on stage in breaking out the bamboo slivers and boiling oil. The physical humor -- Florence's aches and spasms -- is exceptionally well-handled, and Sherman's voice and demeanor are both funny and in-line with her character. All in all, you really have to wonder what took Sidney so long.

Olive and Flo have quite a circle of cronies. Kathryn Dixon broadens her range considering as Mickey, the tough-talking Brooklyn cop. Rona Corman and Carol Cohen are outgoing and thoroughly likable, and Michelle Davis is a howlas the dizzy, not-really-with-it Vera. Mac Bogert and Jim Newcomb are hilarious as the Spanish brothers from upstairs.

Like all Simon shows, this is an ensemble affair that depends on split-second timingto bring all the patter off. That must be difficult when a show is done once a week and, as a cast member told me, "every night is opening night." It is a tribute to the ensemble, director Roland Chambers and assistant director Laurie Nettles that things are as tight as theyare.

When is a so-so sandwich worth $17? When it's munched to a performance this good.

The show runs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Nov. 26.

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