On Friday night, Drama Dock will open a run of the female-centric version of Neil Simon’s long-lasting comic gem, “The Odd Couple,” giving islanders who were snowbound in the past week a chance to get out and enjoy a show.
In this version of the play, the famous characters of lovable slob Oscar Madison and his fastidious roommate, Felix Ungar, are cast as women named Olive Madison and Florence Ungar, and the duo’s cadre of friends are women as well. The characters of the English-born Pigeon sisters — would-be love interests to the mismatched roommates — are in this version the debonair Spanish-born Costazuela brothers.
The cast of Drama Dock’s production, directed by Drama Dock veteran Chaim Rosemarin, includes island thespians Cate O’Kane, Dedra Dakota, Bonny Moss, Thea Vernoy, Chai Ste. Marie, Sue DeNies, James Norton and Russell Baker.
Cate O’Kane, a native Brit who arrived on Vashon in 2016, will play the role of Olive, the sloppier and louder of the two roommates. She has had a transcontinental career that has included making advertisements for cars, shampoos and mobile phones across Europe, Asia and Southern Africa. In her short time on the island, she’s made the most of Vashon’s theater scene, appearing in comic and serious roles in “All in the Timing,” “The Normal Heart,” “The Vagina Monologues” and the “14/48” short plays festival.
O’Kane said that since she had not grown up in the United States, she was not as familiar with the show as an American actor might have been. But coming to the play fresh, she said, made her aware of “how bloody funny it still is, and how it goes to the heart of human relationships and friendship dynamics.”
Dedra Dakota, playing the part of the neat-freak Florence, has also had a wealth of theatrical experience, having attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, where she lived for eight years. She acted in many off-off-Broadway plays as well as performed in TV commercials and on the soap opera “Loving.” She moved to the other side of the camera in Los Angeles, where she became a professional makeup artist for 23 years. Since moving to Vashon three years ago, she has performed in Torena O’Rourke’s recent play, “My Mother, MySelf.”
The Odd Couple will be her first show with Drama Dock — one that she said she is excited to perform, both for its comedy as well as its deeper meaning.
“Neil Simon is an incredible playwright,” Dakota said. “You just have to say the words because the lines are so well-written and funny, and this women’s version is all about sisterhood — it’s like you’re hanging with your best friends, and you just feel so supported and loved.”
“The Odd Couple” is one of the best-known works in the vast constellation of Simon’s hit shows, and it has proven remarkably adaptable over the years. The plot of the play revolves around the hi-jinks that happen when unlikely and wildly unsuitable-for-each-other roommates are thrown together in the wake of a divorce.
The show opened its Tony-winning Broadway debut in 1965, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney as Felix. In 1968, it was adapted into a successful movie starring Jack Lemmon as Felix and once again, Walter Matthau as Oscar. And in 1970, “The Odd Couple” became a long-running TV sitcom, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. An all-African-American version of the show was presented at the Ebony Showcase Theatre in Los Angeles in 1968, directed by James Wheaton and starring Nick Stewart and Morris Erby.
In 1985, Simon reimagined and rewrote the play, with a twist: a female “Odd Couple” with the same story-line. Once again, the show was a hit, starring Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno, playing the parts of Florence and Olive.
Chaim Rosemarin, who is directing the show for Drama Dock, said he has had a great time helming the female “The Odd Couple,” and the only problem thus far in the Vashon production has been the series of recent storms, which have gotten in the way of all-important technical rehearsals.
“The weather has been the biggest challenge of all,” Rosemarin said. “Other than that, it’s been a great time, and we have some really talented people in the show, including a lot of fresh faces and newcomers to Drama Dock.”
The show itself, he said, has a timeless appeal.
“It’s fast and it’s funny, with rapid-fire dialogue and an absurd situation that somehow gets itself resolved,” he said. “The humor appeals to everyone.”
But beyond the show’s gags, Rosemarin also cited a deeper reason for audiences to come out to see the Drama Dock’s “Odd Couple.”
“There is a special piquancy to the show with a female cast,” he said. “It really has something to say about working-class women coming together to help each other.”
The show opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, at Vashon Center for the Arts, with subsequent 7:30 p.m. evening performances on Feb. 16, 21, 22 and 23. Sunday matinees, at 1 p.m., will be presented on Feb. 17 and 24. Tickets, on sale at vashoncenterforthearts.org, cost $18-$20. On Thursday, Feb. 21, admission is by donation at the door.