Birchler and Wasserbach aren’t such an odd couple

The female version of "The Odd Couple" will be at the Colonial Little Theater starting tonight.
Sarah Wasserbach, left, playing Florence Unger, and Amy Birchler, right, playing Olive Madison, rehearse a production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple at the Colonial Little Theatre in Johnstown Monday. The play opens tonight.
Sarah Wasserbach, left, playing Florence Unger, and Amy Birchler, right, playing Olive Madison, rehearse a production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple at the Colonial Little Theatre in Johnstown Monday. The play opens tonight.

It’s Olive and Florence, not Oscar and Felix, and there may be a few other changes here and there, but it’s still “The Odd Couple,” albeit the female version, and it’s still Neil Simon.

“Instead of it being four guys playing poker around a table, it’s four women and they’re playing Trivial Pursuit,” said John Birchler, who is directing the Colonial Little Theater production of “The Odd Couple” (the female version) tonight through May 11. “There are a lot of lines that echo the original version, and there are some that are virtual reproductions of lines from the original. Hey, the writing is still Neil Simon, and if you listen to the lines you can tell. There’s a certain cadence to the way he writes.”

Birchler’s wife, Amy, plays Olive, a TV news executive, and Sarah Wasserbach is Florence, a former accountant turned housewife.

“The role of Olive is a lot of fun, and I guess you’d describe her as a tough broad, a slob with a tender side,” said Amy Birchler. “She’s always looking out for her friends, but she’s driven crazy by Florence. I love doing comedies, and rehearsal for this one has been a lot of fun. Hopefully, the audience will feel the same way.”

Several incarnations

Simon’s female version of “The Odd Couple” debuted on Broadway in June 1985 and ran until February 1986, with Rita Moreno playing Olive Madison and Sally Struthers as Florence Ungar. It didn’t match the success of the original, which ran for two years on Broadway and won four Tony Awards, as well as another nomination for Best Comedy. Walter Matthau, who reprised his role in the 1968 movie version, won one of those four Tonys for his performance as Oscar. Art Carney played Felix, but was replaced by Jack Lemmon in the movie, which earned Simon an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay.


The show was also turned into a television series with Jack Klugman (Oscar) and Tony Randall (Felix) in the two lead roles. Matthew Broderick (Felix) and Nathan Lane (Oscar), fresh from their Broadway success in “The Producers,” joined forces again to do a revival of “The Odd Couple,” the run lasting from October 2005 to June 2006.

For Amy Birchler, the idea of a female version of “The Odd Couple” was a no-brainer.

“I don’t know if Neil Simon came up with it himself or if somebody else suggested it,” she said. “But I think it works pretty well for women. Without men in the picture, women are a lot like men. They tend to do the same things together, and I don’t think that most men realize that women can behave the same way as they do. They have intimate friendships, and, like it is with men, those friendships can often be troublesome.”

Wasserbach, who works for CSEA and has a 16-month-old daughter, doesn’t have the time to perform as often as she’d like, but she wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to do something written by Simon.

“I’m sure he probably figured that a female version would appeal more to women. So I think he knew what he was doing,” said Wasserbach. “Some of the lines he wrote are amazing. It’s like he sat in on a group of women getting together on a Friday night. He seems to know what women would want to talk about, and what they wouldn’t want to talk about.”

Wasserbach was originally cast as Mickey the cop, but John Birchler had to rearrange things after one of the performers had to withdraw from the show.

“If I had to pick the part I wanted, it would be Florence,” said Wasserbach. “She’s all over the place, but she’s great fun and a great person. You don’t know what you’re going to get out of her from one minute to the next, but she’s a true person with all her ups and downs. Playing her is like going on a roller-coaster ride.”

Stage chemistry

Wasserbach wasn’t the only cast change made by Birchler. His wife wasn’t the original actress slated to play Olive.

“We had some turnovers after our initial casting process because of a health crisis,” said John Birchler. “Fortunately, we had Amy and Sarah step up, and they’ve worked very well together before in ‘Steel Magnolias’ and “Greetings.’ They get along very well together on stage and while they already knew each other very well, I think they were surprised at how well things went during rehearsal.”

“The first time I saw Sarah in a show it was at Schenectady Civic, and I just thought she was a wonderful actress,” said Amy Birchler. “We’re both perfectionists and we’re aware of it, and I think we play off of that.”

“I’ve been in at least four shows with Amy, and I’ve been directed by John six or seven times,” said Wasserbach. “We’re having a lot of fun, and when John notified me that we were doing the show and gave me a script, I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.”

‘The Odd Couple’

(the female version)

WHERE: Colonial Little Theatre, 1 Colonial Court, Johnstown

WHEN: 8 tonight and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. May 9-10, 2 p.m. May 11

HOW MUCH: $12-$10

MORE INFO: 762-4325

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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