During his pre-show remarks, artistic director William Virchis joked with the audience, “If you don’t enjoy it, I’ll call Neil Simon to re-write it.”
Actually, Teatro Mascara Magica has taken a major, often-hilarious, liberty with the now-venerable 1965 comedy. It’s been reset in San Diego and is a Latino version of the original. Even the Odd Couple theme — pa-dum be-dee be-dee — has a salsa inflection.
Local references — to Barrio Logan, the Coronado Bridge, the Padres — spice up the familiar story with a homegrown feel. Many lines recall the bold humor of Teatro’s ever-popular Pastorela/Christmas show, as when a poker player says: “Lend me 20 bucks or I’ll tell your wife you’re a Republican.”
Oscar and Felix are still the slob and the control freak (their names now locked in the language of opposites). Felix still clears his ears like a honking goose; and Oscar shoots detritus from his loose cannon: “I haven’t finished dirtying up for the night.”
And, when asked if he has cleaning help, Oscar replies, “I have a man that comes in once a — every night.”
And John Iacovelli’s set morphs from a chaos of tilted picture frames, a t-shirt on a lampshade that reads “Save Water. Drink Margaritas,” and a greasy pizza box long out of use, to House Beautiful, everything precisely — even eerily — in place. In other words, from Oscar to Felix.
The show’s headliners are near opposites as well: Paul Rodriguez, the iconic comedian, plays Oscar; and Mike Gomez, the extremely versatile actor who’s appeared in countless movies and TV shows, plays Felix. Rodriguez evokes monster laughs, as when he complains, in a pure Paul Rodriguez line, that there’s nothing on TV, and Shark Week’s a month away.
Gomez draws laughs with physical moves and gestures, including not doing anything. The duo would make for a nicely un-matched set — the one brazen, the other all subtlety — though at times on opening night their rhythms were a titch off.
They scored some of their best shots in the scenes without dialogue. Felix instinctively cleans up and Oscar deliberately dirties the floor. It’s a yin/yang duality that somehow stays funny.
So does Odd Couple. Simon always got hit for not doing this or that, but what a craftsman! The long first scene, the gang playing poker, isn’t written, it’s orchestrated. And the arrival of the Pigeon — here Paloma — sisters, which moves from horny hope to near despair, is flawless.
The comedy’s built in, but under William Virchis’ expert direction, the scenes brim with life. The poker players — Rhys Greene, John Anderson, Douglas Friedman, and Dave Rivas — function as a single unit. And the Paloma sisters, Danielle Levin and Erika Toraya, are first-rate: both human and a hoot. And how one of them produces a Kleenex is worth the price of admission.