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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 3 years ago

“The Odd Couple” opens this weekend at the Garden Theatre

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The theater is showcasing both of Neil Simon’s two versions - the 1965 male version and 1985 female version.
by: Brittany Gaines Reporter

WINTER GARDEN The Garden Theatre is doubling down on all the oddities as it prepares for opening night of “The Odd Couple.” 

The play was written by Neil Simon in 1965 and tells the story of friends Oscar and Felix who become roommates, despite their opposite personalities, after Felix is thrown out by his wife

But Simon didn’t stop there. 

In 1985, he rewrote the tale from a female perspective.

So, when the Garden Theatre decided to add “The Odd Couple” to its season this year, they didn’t want to choose between Simon’s two versions and decided to showcase both at the same time.

“When you have a limited number of shows you can produce in a season, we thought it would be great for our audiences to be able to see both of Simon's takes on this story rather than choose,” said the theater’s Artistic Director Rob Winn Anderson.

For an added twist, the theater decided to appoint a female to direct the male version and a male director for the female version.

“In determining that we were going to take on these two versions of this Neil Simon classic, I thought that it would be very interesting to have an ‘opposite sex’ (director) at the helm,” Anderson said. “This has been a crazy and challenging experiment across the board for my two accomplished directors, and I am excited to see them bring these plays to life.”

The Men

For Mark Ferrera, getting to star in the original 1965 classic was something he had always wanted to do.

“It’s quite exciting,” said Ferrera, who will play the role of Oscar. “Every actor has these roles you really want to do, and this was always in the back of my mind. This play is a masterpiece. It’s the classic from whence everything else sprung.”

When he learned he had received the role of Oscar, Ferrera said his original reaction was apprehension despite his 35 years of working in theater.

“You go from scared to death that you’re going to fall on your face to now, I’m getting excited,” he said.

Starring along Ferrera is Stephen Lima, who will play the role of Felix. For Lima, getting to star alongside Ferrera was a chance he couldn’t pass up.

“He’s a big player in this town,” Lima said. “He has that theatrical sense that this show needs.”

One of the biggest challenges of the show, Lima said, is working out the many comedic moments.

“You have to be dedicated for those moments; you have to go for the jokes,” he said. “You have to find what rings true in that moment. But the audience is the final piece of the puzzle that has to come in.”

The Women

For Marty Stonerock and Peg O’Keef, learning that they would star together in the female version of “The Odd Couple” was the main reason they decided to take on the roles of Olive and Florence, respectively.

“I followed her career for a very, very long time,” Stonerock said about O’Keef - a sentiment that O’Keef reciprocated.

Although the female version was written in 1985, Stonerock said the content is still relatable today.

“I love the story of starting over again,” she said. “I feel a lot of women can related to that. After a breakdown, you rely on your girlfriends.”

For O’Keef, getting to star in Simon’s female version has given her a new appreciation for his work.

“It is really remarkable how much is retained (from the original version),” she said.

And according to both stars, the fact that they’re performing alongside of the male version is both exciting and intimidating.

“It’s a great social experiment, because we’re telling the same story,” Stonerock said.

But both are thrilled to bring their version to life on the Garden Theatre stage.

“(The Garden Theatre) is a jewel box with a fascinating history,” O’Keef said. “So we’re really excited and ready to go.”

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