TUPELO • The genders may be swapped, but the main characters of “The Odd Couple – Female Version” are no different than their male counterparts in the original Neil Simon play.
Oscar Madison – the sloppy, big-hearted divorcee – is now Olive. And Felix Ungar – the separated, neurotic neatfreak – has become Florence.
Together, Olive Madison and Florence Ungar find a way to coexist in Olive’s New York City apartment. The humorous conflicts between the mismatched roommates will be played out July 18-20 in Tupelo Community Theatre’s latest Off Broadway production.
“The characters are pretty much the same. One is sloppy and the other is finicky,” said director Debby Gibbs, noting how Simon revised his 1965 comedy 20 years later with a female angle. “He flipped everything around. A lot of the lines are exactly the same, especially between Florence and Olive.”
Haley Johnson (Florence) and Maddie Ludt (Olive) are the leads in TCT’s female “Odd Couple,” which is set in the 1980s and includes a supporting cast of women. Instead of the guys playing poker at Oscar’s apartment, the girlfriends gather at Olive’s for a game of Trivial Pursuit. Florence moves into the apartment after splitting from her husband.
When Olive arranges a double-date for her and Florence, they go out with the Costazuela brothers, two Spaniards who live in the same complex. The brothers replace the Pigeons, the English sisters who dated Oscar and Felix.
Gibbs said she directed both male and female versions of the play when she was the theater teacher at Tupelo High School.
“We did the male version, and then four or five years later we had some really good girls so we did the female version,” she said.
Johnson and Ludt are former students of Gibbs. Johnson worked backstage during Tupelo High’s male “Odd Couple” while Ludt saw the female version as a student.
Ludt said she’s more like Florence in real life.
“I organize business documents for a living,” she said. “I’m very organized by day, but playing Olive is a very nice change. I will say this: My 7- or 8-year-old self would be pleased with this role because I was a big tomboy.”
Johnson said she went into the audition thinking she’d make a good Olive.
“When Maddie and I were talking about wanting to do this show, I was like, ‘Yes, obviously, I’ll play Olive and you’ll play Florence’,” Johnson said. “We went into auditions with it in our heads that’s the roles we’ll try out for.
“On the callbacks, (Gibbs) told us to flip,” Johnson added. “We thought it was just for fun, she wants to hear our range. And then we got the call that night, and we thought, ‘Oh, well’. Now, I can’t imagine playing the other role.”
Gibbs said she’s enjoyed directing Johnson and Ludt as adults. “There’s a lot of maturity in both, especially in the acting part of it,” she said.
While Ludt and Johnson have been in past TCT productions, the remaining cast members are newcomers. Playing the friends are Veronica McAlister, Anne Haire, Emily Mote and Brandy Cook. Carlton Wall and Brandon Strickland are the brothers.
“Several of these are new, and they’ve been great to work with,” Gibbs said.
“The Odd Couple – Female Version” opens Thursday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m. with additional performances Friday, July 19 and Saturday, July 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students.
For more information, visit tct.ms or call (662) 844-1935.