Island Players bring the laughs

From left, Cathy Hansel-Edgerton (Vera), Jean Walther (Sylvie), Leona Collesano (Olive), Ruth Shaulis (Florence), Seva Anthony (Mickey), Kristin Mazzitelli (Renee), Anuj Naidu (Jesus) and Mike DeMaio (Manolo) take a bow after their performance of ‘The Odd Couple, The Female Version.’ - Jason Schaffer | Sun

ANNA MARIA – A New York apartment is the setting for a familiar, albeit slightly skewed view of some of Neil Simon’s most beloved characters to bring the laughs. In the late 1960s, Simon introduced audiences to Oscar and Felix, who would be featured in film, television and even a cartoon. As beloved as the Odd Couple was, in the mid-1980s he decided he had one more iteration of the story under his belt when he wrote “The Odd Couple, The Female Version.”

So Felix Unger, whose marriage has imploded, becomes Florence Unger, a neat-freak housewife and mother whose husband leaves her. Oscar Madison, the sports writer, becomes Olive Madison, a sloppy TV news producer who is constantly giving money to her broke ex-husband. While the original Oscar and Felix enjoyed poker nights, the ladies get together every Friday for a game of Trivial Pursuit, which in itself harkens back to the time the play was written, and the questions in the game date the play accurately as well. Although the play is the most modern version, it’s old enough to bring relevant laughs to anyone middle-aged and beyond.

The jokes begin shortly after the curtain opens and don’t stop until the final seconds of the play. Director Preston Boyd brilliantly cast this production with actors who seem to truly get the core of their characters. In a rare casting decision, Boyd actually decided on two leading ladies to play Olive Madison. The night The Sun attended the play, Leona Collesano played Olive, but she will be sharing nights with Players veteran, Laura Morales, who will be familiar to anyone who has attended plays at the theater in recent years.

“I chose to double cast the role of Olive,” Boyd said. “Every two or three performances we switch Olives. Normally when I look at auditions, I see somebody who is just right for the part, but rarely will I see two people who are right for the part. In these auditions, I saw Laura Morales and knew I had my Olive, but then I see Leona Collesano and in both of them I saw what I wanted for that part. I thought, why not double cast.”

Boyd assembled a solid supporting cast, as well. As the often-clueless Vera, Cathy Hansel-Edgerton lands solid punchline after solid punchline. Jean Walther as Sylvie is also quite funny. And Mike DeMaio as Manolo Constazuela and Anuj Naidu as his brother, Jesus, nearly steal Act II delivering laughs that last so long the cast had to pause a few times to allow the crowd cackling to dissipate.

“The Odd Couple, The Female Version,” co-produced by The Offstage Ladies, runs through Jan. 29. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday with a matinee performance Sundays at 2 p.m. Contact the box office Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 941-778-5755 or visit the theater website to purchase tickets.