`Odd Couple' is back on Broadway -- with a new twist The Odd Couple Comedy by Neil Simon. Directed by Gene Saks. Starring Rita Moreno, Sally Struthers.
``I've always dreamed of winning a Tony. I didn't think I'd have to dream through 22 plays to get it.'' So said a smiling Neil Simon as he accepted the Antoinette Perry Award for ``Biloxi Blues'' as the best play of the 1984/85 Broadway season. The overdue recognition at least is one more proof that everything comes to him who waits. In 1983 Mr. Simon received his first New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for ``Brighton Beach Memoirs.'' Both plays are continuing Broadway hits.
One of the early successes of the long Simon catalog was ``The Odd Couple.'' The comedy opened in New York in 1965, ran for 964 performances, became successively a Hollywood movie and a TV series that still brightens the night airwaves in reruns. It turned out that America's most eminent and prolific comic playwright wasn't yet done with his tilted view of domesticity. The result is a second version of ``The Odd Couple,'' which opened last night at the Broadhurst Theater.
Instead of husbands Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar, Mr. Simon now gives us Olive Madison (Rita Moreno) and Florence Ungar (Sally Struthers). The weekly poker game has become a weekly session of Trivial Pursuit. With her longtime marriage suddenly on the rocks, a distraught Florence shows up late for the game in Olive's Riverside Drive apartment and is given shelter by the good-natured divorc'ee. In the manner of the 1965 original, ultra-fastidious Florence is soon driving slovenly Olive up the wall.
As reconditioned, ``The Odd Couple'' is more than merely a case of role reversal. In terms of dialogue, it is a substantially new play. Easygoing Olive can be conned into sending her ex-husband money. Teary Florence is desolate over the loss of the connubial life that late she led. In these and other ways, Mr. Simon attempts to view the effects of divorce from the woman's standpoint.
Some attitudes and conditions have changed with the arrival of the feminist age. Olive, for instance, is a network TV news producer. But even in an era of increased marital partings and unconventional partnerings, some things remain the same.
Not everything about odd couple two translates into the new format. To go back to the original for a moment, a male fusspot seems more inherently ludicrous than a female fusspot. Or is that just a male chauvinist view? In any case, Miss Moreno plays the designated slob of the duo with her state-of-the-art finesse. Miss Struthers -- blond, matronly, and frizzy-haired -- gives a broadly farcical performance as the indefatigable homemaker with a bent for hypochondria.
The Trivial Pursuit sessions rely heavily on some of the girls being some of the boys (to borrow from a Fred Ebb lyric). The pursuers are played by Jenny O'Hara, Mary Louise Wilson, and Kathleen Doyle with comic zest and no pretensions to false delicacy. They make the most of the abundant jokes with which Mr. Simon enlivens the game. Marilyn Cooper gives her notable deadpan performance as the literal-minded odd-woman-out in the crowd. The characters are all candidates for charm school.
The English Pigeon sisters of Version 1 have become the Iberian Costazuela brothers of the renovation. Thanks to the author, director Gene Saks, and the performances of Lewis J. Stadlen and Tony Shalhoub, an inspired piece of nonsense is turned into hilarity unconfined. In the scrambled, Anglo-Spanish conversation piece, Mr. Simon even gets laughs out of confusing ``no good'' with ``nougat.''
David Mitchell's setting is a nostalgic reminder of the commodious apartments New Yorkers once took for granted. Ann Roth's costumes and Tharon Musser's lighting suit the mood of the re-creation. As for Mr. Simon, after his long and patient dreaming, he has two prizewinners and a renovated 20-year-old favorite running on Broadway. If nothing else, ``The Odd Couple'' merits a conservation group's award for recycling. And the Broadhurst rocks with laughter.