THE ODD COUPLE, at the Apollo Theater. If a play's focus is character contrast, gender bending shouldn't spoil the fun. That's the apparent rationale for switching the sexes in this 1965 comedy classic. In 1985 Neil Simon transformed the slobby Oscar Madison into the equally loutish Olive; epicene Felix Unger became repressed, anal-retentive Florence. He replaced the weekly poker games with Trivial Pursuit, the Pigeon sisters with simpatico Spanish brothers. And suddenly Simon's quintessentially male comedy plays like Sex & the City.

Interestingly, it's the prissy, self-pitying Felix who translates best into self-denigrating Florence. But Olive feels forced. Despite the camaraderie of her female friends (sharply drawn by this crisp ensemble), her sloppiness lacks the appropriate context. (Simon may have been more comfortable in the male milieu.) What remains intact is the show's message: friendship, like marriage, can die from an excess of truth.

None of this matters if the players can't make The Odd Couple funny, however--the chief affliction of Harvey Medlinsky's noncombustible staging. Rita McKenzie's butch Olive--stuck between Valerie Harper and Ethel Merman--twists slowly in the wind, getting little friction from her costar: if the Apollo production is a vehicle for Barbara Eden, she has failed to fill the tank. Eden's Florence lacks the manic edge that Jack Lemmon gave Felix in the film and Tony Randall brought to the character on TV. Eden doesn't take enough risks with Florence, who seems dumbed down: nothing she says is as funny as Simon's physical gags. I dream of Felix.

--Lawrence Bommer

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