ALAMEDA -- Whenever Neil Simon writes a play, it usually instantly becomes a classic. This was especially true of his "The Odd Couple."

So, perhaps to show that men and women experience similar problems, Simon took his "The Odd Couple" and rewrote it with an almost all-female cast.

That play, currently being performed by the Altarena Playhouse, is funnier than its predecessor.

For this version, lovable slob Oscar and his compulsively neat friend Felix have been reborn as Olive and Florence. The newer plot, including some of the same lines, works just as well if not better.

Olive, earnestly played by Emily Garcia, loves life and living far too much to waste time cleaning up after herself.

Florence, artfully sustained by actress Caroline Schneider, has spent 14 years as the perfect housewife, constantly cleaning and straightening up, only to be thrown out by her weary husband. When these two female souls try living together, sparks inevitably fly.

The two are blessed with friends who meet once a week to play Trivial Pursuit at Olive's apartment. These include cheerful Sylvie (Jacqui Frankle), police officer Mickey (Susan Eggett), free spirited Renee (Nikki Nickerson), and blonde Vera, who wears large red-framed glasses (Laura Nicole Zimmerman).

The women relish their game, gossiping and, without rancor, complaining about their husbands or lovers. Olive admits to loneliness and clearly longs for a man of her own.


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When Olive meets two Spanish brothers in her apartment building's elevator, her hormones tingle. She invites both Manolo (John Vincent Burke) and Jesus Costazuela (Joseph Rios) to dinner.

The men add much to the comedy of the play as they stumble over meanings and pronunciation of the English idiom.

Inadvertently, Florence tearfully wins the hearts of both men, later precipitating a screaming crisis with Olive.

Every character in this play speaks clearly and well, owing to the direction of Richard Robert Bunker and vocal coach Joseph Rios.

"The Odd Couple (Female Version)" is a merry play with a delightfully entertaining cast. It is long at 2 hours and 20 minutes, but well paced.

Highly recommended for all audiences.

IF YOU GO
What: Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple (Female Version)"
Where: Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 15 and Thursday, Sept. 12; 2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets: $21 to $24
Information: 510-523-1553 or www.Altarena.org