Monday Smiles – 5/5/2014
Friday night, after noticing that the movie fare looked a little sparse this weekend, at least for our tastes (I can only drag my wife Muri to sit through one Captain America-type epic a month), I went on the half-price ticket website, Goldstar, to see if there was anything more cultural to do. One of the things I like about using Goldstar is that it leads us to theater venues that we might otherwise miss. Yes, that is indeed a double-edged blade for a theater snob like Older Eyes. While we frequently find good productions at smaller local theaters, we occasionally end up sitting through the kind of shows that give community theater a bad name. That can be particularly awkward because in equity theaters, Goldstar often places us in the very front row, where the actors can see us as well as we can see them. I recall one particular production of West Side Story that was so bad it was hard not to laugh at the most dramatic moments. No, we didn’t. I may be a theater snob but I’m not rude.
At any rate, Friday night I found a production of The Female Odd Couple at the Covina Center for the Performing Arts. These days, it seems as if every neighborhood has something called a performing arts center, and it can be anything from the gorgeous Orange County Performing Arts Center to a converted strip mall. Interestingly, the Covina Center is a nicely converted movie theater that’s retained the old fashioned marquee and much of the look of a seventies neighborhood cinema. When Muri and I moved to California in 1971, I remember passing the theater on my way to work. So, interesting venue, Neil Simon and $15 tickets on Goldstar. How could I resist?
In The Female Odd Couple, Simon transformed the classic comedy most of us remember from stage, film and TV with fastidious Felix Unger and messy Oscar Madison to an all female cast, with Olive Madison and Florence Unger the principals. The story is essentially the same with some appropriate changes to make it work for women. Instead of opening to the famous poker game with Oscar and friends, the female version opens to Olive’s game of trivial pursuit. The hysterical Pidgeon sisters (upstairs neighbors that Oscar invites to dinner hoping for some action) are replaced by the Constazuela Brothers, Jesus and Manola, both recently emigrees from Spain. The brothers weren’t quite as funny as the Pidgeon sisters but worked just fine as Florence ruined Olive’s plan by spending the evening talking about his soon-to-be ex-wife. Oscar’s over-the-top sloppiness was harder to believe in Olive and Flo wasn’t as annoyingly funny as Felix, but once you bought the premise, the play was very funny. The set was very professional and I thought that both the direction and acting were excellent. As is sometimes the case in local productions, the actors didn’t all fit my image of the characters, but again, once I bought into the choices, it worked.
Muri and I are both dedicated people watchers and one of the things we enjoy about trying different theater venues is seeing how the audiences differ. Some theaters attract mostly theater snobs or the affluent, others gray hairs or theater people. The Covina audience was diverse in age and ethnicity, as was, by the way, the cast. It was also the friendliest audience we’ve ever encountered, people talking happily with those around them before the play and during the intermission. The theater staff was friendly and proud of their venue … and the cast came into the lobby to greet the audience afterwards. It was a very enjoyable evening.
It’s Monday … I’m smiling.