Times Theater Critic

Don't cry for Neil Simon. Yes, Eddie Murphy turned down his script for a new movie. But the Broadway critics didn't turn down his new female version of "The Odd Couple."

They didn't exactly give the new "Odd Couple" a standing ovation, but the consensus was accepting. The New York Post's Clive Barnes best summed up the reaction to the show: "It has no right to work. Yet, almost disconcertingly, it does."

Frank Rich of the New York Times was, likewise, not unamused. If "Olive" and "Flo" reminded Rich of Oscar and Felix in drag, he did enjoy the scene where the Costazuela Brothers from Iberia Airlines (once the Pigeon Sisters from London) dropped in for malaprops and tonic.

Variety's Richard Hummler pointed out that the basic joke in "The Odd Couple" isn't easily reversed: i.e., "the incongruity of men trying to cope with domesticity." Still, "the gender switch probably won't matter to the public, who will revel in what remains a screamingly funny play."

Michael Kuchawara of the Associated Press thought the switch quite irresistible, with Sally Struthers "a wonderfully forlorn Florence" and Rita Moreno "a perfect foil" as Olive.

One naysayer: Douglas Watt of the Daily News. "You'd think that Neil Simon's most popular comedy . . . would have exhausted its possibilities by now. And apparently it has."

Speaking of "The Odd Couple," the all-male version marches on. Frank Gifford and Don Meredith did it in Santa Fe this spring, and it's currently a hit in Mexico City, where it's known as "La Pareja Dispareja."

After five years as artistic director of the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre, Liviu Ciulei has announced his resignation in order to pursue "a variety of projects that require me to be free of organizational responsibilities."

Meaning? Well, Ciulei brought a rather severe vision to the Guthrie, as in his icy, marathon staging of "Peer Gynt" and Lucian Pintilie's post-modern staging of "Tartuffe." These brought in far fewer customers than the Guthrie's musical comedies ("Guys and Dolls," "Anything Goes"), and there's probably been some tension with the Guthrie board about that.

But the board thanked Ciulei for "putting the Guthrie back on the international theater map" and the director will be around until spring, so feelings aren't as hard as when Ciulei's predecessor, Alvin Epstein, was bounced. Some names being mentioned as Ciulei's successor: Jon Jory of the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Mark Lamos of the Hartford Stage, Des McAnuff of the La Jolla Playhouse.

SQUIBS. Cafe La Mama's Ellen Stewart has received one of those MacArthur Foundation grants for self-directed geniuses. Let's hope she doesn't give it all away to needy playwrights. . . . Sellars won't be doing Mae West's "Come On Over" for his next show at his American National Theater in Washington. Replacing it is a genuine hard-oak American classic--O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh," starring Jason Robards and directed by Jose Quintero. It opens Aug. 7 at the Kennedy Center.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. British producer Michael White in his new memoir, "Empty Seats" (Hamish Hamilton: $17.50): "Every theatrical impresario knows that the masks that form the traditional trademark of the theater do not represent comedy and tragedy at all. They stand for success and failure."

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