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Familiar story, homegrown feel

Localized The Odd Couple at Teatro Mascara Magica brims with life.

Paul Rodriguez and Mike Gomez in Teatro Mascara Magica's The Odd Couple.
Paul Rodriguez and Mike Gomez in Teatro Mascara Magica's The Odd Couple.

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.

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Paul Rodriguez and Mike Gomez in Teatro Mascara Magica's The Odd Couple.
Paul Rodriguez and Mike Gomez in Teatro Mascara Magica's The Odd Couple.

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.

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