Review: MVT’s ‘Odd Couple (Female Version)’

Jan. 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

In the past decade Hawaii has come to know Maleko McDonnell as a nightclub event emcee, an entrepreneur and as host of “Maleko’s Room” on Honolulu radio station Star 101.9. As of Thursday, Jan. 16, and the opening of Manoa Valley Theatre’s production of “The Odd Couple (Female Version),” Honolulu also knows him as a talented and versatile comic actor.

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‘The Odd Couple (Female Version)’

Presented by Manoa Valley Theatre

» Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Valley Rd.
» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 2
» Cost: $35 general admission; $30 for seniors and military; $20 for everyone 25 and younger
» Info: (808) 988-6131 or www.manoavalleytheatre.com

McDonnell has a secondary role in the MVT production, but plays it with such impact in his one big scene that he steals the show. His partner-in-theft, as it were, local stage veteran Stu Hirayama, does a fine job supporting his performance.

“The Odd Couple (Female Version)” is playwright Neil Simon’s 1985-vintage mirror-image take on his 1965 Broadway hit, “The Odd Couple.” In the original version of the story, neurotic Felix Ungar moved into the rat’s nest apartment of sloppy abrasive sportswriter Oscar Madison.

This time around, neat-freak Florence Unger (note the difference in spelling) moves in with sloppy out-spoken Olive Madison. Instead of the four guys who came over to Oscar’s place each Friday night to play poker there are four women who get together at Olive’s each Friday to play Trivial Pursuit.

The two upstairs neighbors — English sisters in the original story — are Spanish immigrants, brothers Manolo and Jesus Costazuela, whose command of English is limited and intermittent.

McDonnell plays Manolo, Hirayama is Jesus. They don’t appear until after intermission but the energy level spikes exponentially when they do. It’s like watching a movie in black-and-white suddenly burst into vibrant living color. McDonnell makes full use of every word and nuance and comic possibility in Simon’s script. Hirayama is similarly effective as the earnest verbally challenged brother.

The story is about the clash of opposites. Director Betty Burdick gets a big assist from Lisa Ponce de Leon (Hair and Make Up) and Carlynn Wolfe (Costume Design) in visually defining Olive and Florence in those terms.

Spoiler alert: Veteran comic actor Lisa Konove (Olive) has bright red hair that is combed, teased and securely sprayed up into a bizarre towering pompadour-style ‘do that sets Olive miles apart from every other character in the show. Konove’s ‘do got her an OMG laugh when she made her first appearance.

By way of contrast, Nicole Tessier (Florence) wears her hair cut very short. And, while Konove spends most of the show wearing slacks, Tessier wears modest dresses, and often as not a housemaker’s apron as well. Tessier plays Florence as shy, sweet and repressed rather than neurotic; the divorcee-to-be is prone to occasional physical breakdowns however — a stiff neck, a sudden immobilizing back spasm, and so on.

Denise Aiko Chinen (Mickey), Hoku Gilbert (Renee), Jordan Clara Ihilani Sasaki (Sylvie) and Tammy Wallace (Vera) complete the cast as the four Trivial Pursuit players. Chinen stands out visually as a uniformed police officer whose uniform doesn’t include a gun. Wallace plays the innocent dim bulb of the group.

Playwright Simon gives all four characters some good one-liner comic material — Wallace got some noticeable response from the opening night audience on Jan. 16.

The show also benefits from the work of Jim Davenport (Set Design), Sara Ward (Props Design) and Jason Taglianetti (Sound Design).  Taglianetti creates a 1980s ambiance with his choices of background music. Davenport’s spacious set is a show place of interior design — and, it must be noted, far from the “rat’s nest” of a confirmed bachelor slob. Ward provides an assortment of essential bits and pieces that include eye-catching bright red bouquets, a plate of linguini, a blackened capon, and those famously inedible brown and green sandwiches.

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