Arts and Entertainment

All-female version of 'The Odd Couple' offers entertaining twist on two very familiar characters

Florence Unger, played by Tamra Sipes, is comforted by Olive Madison, played by Napoletano. - Photos by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Florence Unger, played by Tamra Sipes, is comforted by Olive Madison, played by Napoletano.
— image credit: Photos by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

The highs and lows of playing a character who rides an emotional rollercoaster can be taxing to an actor.

Tamra Sipes embraced the challenge.

“This is the one I wanted in auditions,” Sipes said. “I liked the character.”

Sipes plays Florence Unger in the Neil Simon comedy, “The Odd Couple Female Version,” which opens this week as the first play of the 2014-15 season at the Whidbey Playhouse.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, and continues through Sept. 21.

For 11 performances, Sipes is tasked with showing the gamut of emotions and high drama that comes with the character made famous on the big screen in 1968 by Jack Lemmon and later on television by Tony Randall in 1970s in the male version of “The Odd Couple.”

Simon’s original play, “The Odd Couple,” premiered on Broadway in 1965, with the adaptation of a female version coming 20 years later.

“The female version is funnier than the male version. It really is,” said Stan Thomas, who’s directing the play. “I think Simon knows that because he actually came out with another version called Felix and Oscar, which is really kind of a rewrite of this play. I think he knows that this is a funnier version.”

The female version follows the familiar storyline, revolving around two divorced, mismatched roommates whose personalities clash with regularity.

Sipes and Joyce Napoletano play the central characters — Sipes the neurotic neat freak Unger, while Napoletano tackles the sloppy, easy-going Olive Madison.

“These two women are probably two of the most talented women onstage here,” Thomas said. “They’re very, very good. I’ve worked with Joyce before. I’ve seen Tamra onstage before. They have a lot of flexibility as actors. They’re very intelligent. It’s a joy to work with intelligent actors.”

Napoletano and Sipes are both familiar faces at the playhouse and have performed in the same play before, but never onstage together in prominent roles.

They adapted quickly to each other and both said they enjoy working together.

“There’s a really good chemistry between us onstage,” Sipes said.

Napoletano’s community theater background dates back about 20 years with the past seven spent performing at the Whidbey Playhouse. She played a leading role in “Too Soon for Daisies” last September.

“I wanted this role. I’ve wanted it for years,” Napoletano said. “When I found out the playhouse was doing it, I jumped at it. I love doing comedy anyway. It’s my favorite.”

Sipes’ acting experience extends fewer than four years at the playhouse.

“It’s fun,” Sipes said. “It’s the one place you don’t have to be yourself. You get to be a whole different person.”

Although Sipes admits that she does share some of the Florence Unger traits.

“I’m neat,” she said. “I’m very detail-oriented.”

Such organization is necessary as a mother of four and owner of Platinum Travel & Events, which coordinates conferences, conventions, special events and travel across the country.

She also is a member of Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor, board president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County and is the national recording secretary for the Gold Star Wives of America.

And, of course, a community theater actor tackling a complex role.

“It’s a tough character,” she said. “It’s one of those where you’re constantly working at it.

“It’s probably the most challenging just because of her emotional scale from one end of the spectrum to the other within seconds. You’ve got to be able to flip it on and flip it off.”

The cast for The Odd Couple Female Version also includes veteran performers Victoria Lacey, Allenda Jenkins (who’s also the producer) and Geri Thomas (Stan’s wife) and playhouse newcomers Amy Sue Viers, George Washington Orange III and Casey Riebe.

Orange and Riebe, both stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, are brothers from Spain in the play, and their scene was a big hit with the audience during a dress rehearsal last week.

“They just showed up at the audition,” Stan Thomas said. “They did really well.”

The plot is very similar to the male version of “The Odd Couple” with one obvious difference.

“I think men laugh at this play because they’re getting a first-hand knowledge of what women really talk about when they’re alone,” Thomas said. “We really don’t know that. I think there’s a lot of humor in that.”

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