It seemed like a great idea at the time, which was 1984, right in the heart of the Age of Second-Wave Feminism: Recast the greatest guy-comedy of all time, Neil Simon‘s The Odd Couple, not only with a female Oscar and Felix, but with their hard-drinking, crotch-scratching, stogie-smoking, moldy-sandwich-scarfing, deodorant-and-English-challenged poker pals all played by birds as well. And speaking of birds, those fun-lovably ditzy sisters, the Pigeons — well they’ll be played by guys! What could be more hilarious?
As it turned out, waterboarding is more hilarious. Working for Apple in China is more hilarious. As my colleague Mike Fleming points out in his Sunday rant about Paul Feig‘s pitch for a distaff Ghostbusters, what’s saucy for the goose is, more often than not, radioactive for the gander. Tinker at your own risk.
The all-femme Odd Couple starred Sally Struthers as “Florence” Ungar and Rita Moreno as “Olive” Madison. The Pigeon sisters became the Costazuela brothers, played by Tony Shalhoub and Lewis J. Stadlen. Mike Nichols, who staged the incomparable 1965 original, became the great Gene Saks, who staged the hapless revision.
“If it’s hard to think of a time when Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar didn’t exist,” I wrote in my review for the Dallas Morning News and as Variety’s stringer at the time, “it may be even harder to think of them as any other than a couple of contemporary city guys trying to make it after their wives have thrown them out. The Odd Couple is a quintessentially male play.”
Between the Dallas tryout and the Broadway opening six months later, the opening-scene poker game had been replaced — I swear this is true — by Trivial Pursuit, which, to be honest, told you all you needed to know. To be fair, Struthers and Moreno had some chemistry and the scene with the Costazuela bros. almost lifted the enterprise to meh. But against the bar set by the original, with Art Carney and Walter Matthau? No cigar. Not even close.
Yeah, yeah, women have played Hamlet, Brutus, Prospero and Peter Pan. Fine. But watch it, pal, when you’re dealing with a real classic and keep your damned hands off of Oscar, Felix … and Dr. Peter Venkman.