‘A’ for effort
McQueen High School’s female version of The Odd Couple suffers from poor accents and anachronistic script changes
Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple has been around over twice as long as the kids who are now performing it at Robert McQueen High School. The Royal Lancer Players, as the student actors are called, perform both a male version and a female version of the play.
Simon’s genius shines in the simplicity of the play’s plot: An about-to-be divorced, anal-retentive Felix moves in with the happy-go-lucky slob Oscar. As a same-sex but heterosexual couple, the pair runs into the same issues a married couple might—from respect for each other’s time to respect for the common space of the apartment. It explores the give and take of a relationship.
McQueen’s female version reverses the gender of all the characters and jokes. It’s a fun idea that could work very well, since the theme is not gender-specific. Oscar becomes Olive; Felix becomes Florence. The play begins with four women at a table in Olive’s apartment playing Trivial Pursuit.
Unfortunately, the girls are merely acting, as they don’t yet have that sublime sense of being in character. Director Leo McBride made a bad decision in having the girls attempt to speak with New York accents. He would have been better off having the actors work more on their characters than their dialect. Not only do the accents clash from character to character, they all sound painfully fake and cartoony.
The leading actors’ accents—Rachel Sliker as Olive and Maegan Nelson as Florence—are not as imperfect as the others, but they constantly detract from the acting, which was fine. Nelson as the neurotic, newly separated woman was great. She was as whiney and whimpering as the play called for, and even her costumes were whiney-looking. Sliker, too, was just what the play called for: a realistic portrayal of a bachelorette whose space has been invaded by a housewife, who’s only happy when she’s picking up, straightening up and cleaning up.
In Simon’s original play, the only female characters are Oscar’s neighbors. In the female version of McQueen’s performance, the neighbors are male: Manolo (Kevin Barrett) and Jesus (Dan Bale). Barrett and Bale were cute and precisely awkward, but their Spanish accents weren’t right and their confusion over certain words went on too long—long enough to qualify for a sitcom. Also, Bale’s facial muscles were fully strained during his unsuccessful attempt at keeping a straight face, which is key to playing a comedic role.
Some of the choices of what was kept true to the original play and what was cut or altered did not appear clear. Specifically, many of the jokes in the original version pertained to New York City and 1961, when the play was written. Some lines were altered (anachronistically so), while others were not.
Then, at the end of the play, my jaw dropped open and I involuntarily muttered, “Oh, no!” In response to a final Trivial Pursuit question, the five actors sang out the answer. Then they sang it again. The time to go musical is not the last line of the play. The two sung lines were incongruous with the entire drama.
I support the effort the students at McQueen put into the production, from the props to the costumes to the attempts at playing something they’re not: 40-year-old New Yorkers. Hopefully these kids will continue to pursue their acting careers and just get better and better.