'Odd Couple,''Glengarry Glen Ross' opening with gender-switch revisions

Turnabout is fair play.

Make that plays.

At least this weekend, when not one but two award-winning favorites open in Las Vegas - with women in roles usually played by men.

In the case of Neil Simon's classic comedy "The Odd Couple" - presented Saturday and Sunday at The Smith Center's Troesh Studio Theater - a female version is nothing new.

Simon himself oversaw the gender-switch revision, which debuted on Broadway 30 years after the 1965 original's arrival. (Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers played the roles originated onstage by Walter Matthau and Art Carney.)

But David Mamet's blistering "Glengarry Glen Ross," which opens an 11-day run Saturday at downtown's theatre7 , has undergone no changes.

Except, of course, that women embody the play's driven Chicago salesmen trying to peddle Florida real estate.

It's Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning script, word for word, explains Marlena Shapiro, who portrays hotshot Richard Roma. (Joe Mantegna won a Tony for the role, which Al Pacino played in the movie.)

"Part of the agreement for us to get the rights" to the play "was that we had to do it verbatim," Shapiro says of the Current Theatrics production.

Delivering Mamet's bruising, expletive-undeleted dialogue "felt unusual" at first, Shapiro admits. And not just because she was saying lines written for a male character.

"Women are taught to be nice - to be the peacemakers, to smooth things over," she observes. Now, however, she finds Mamet's trademark language "really liberating," noting that she and many of her "Glengarry" castmates "have adopted the same language" offstage.

"It has given me the liberty to say what I feel," she says.

It's also given the real-life real estate agent a new perspective on her day job.

"It's so timely," she says, noting that in Las Vegas "so many agents are women," including castmate Anne Davis Mulford, who plays Dave Moss.

And Gail K. Romero, alias desperate Shelly "The Machine" Levine, "sold time shares to put both kids through school," she recalls. (Jack Lemmon played Levine in the movie; Pacino takes on the role in the current Broadway revival.)

"A lot of us who are familiar with sales, it makes it more authentic for us," Romero says.

Shapiro adds, "The play shows the seedier side of sales, (but) I don't think sales has changed. It's still competitive, still dog-eat-dog."

As for "The Odd Couple," protagonists Madison and Ungar remain equally incompatible roommates, whether their first names are Oscar and Felix - or Olive and Florence.

"It's largely the same script, but it's been tweaked," says Charlene Sher , co-founder of the Jewish Repertory Theatre of Nevada. Sher plays fastidious Florence - opposite JRTN co-founder Norma Morrow as slovenly Olive.

"The subject matter hasn't changed," agrees Morrow, noting that working woman Olive Madison is as much of an easygoing slob as Oscar ever was. And Florence, a homemaker, echoes uptight Felix's neat-freak nature.

Rather than Oscar's regular poker game, however, this "Odd Couple" features Olive's weekly Trivial Pursuit party with her pals - including Florence, who's a subject of concern when she's late to the party.

The reason for Florence's late arrival: a marital split that puts her in immediate need of a place to stay, which she finds with her loyal friend Olive.

Thus the stage is set for Simon's opposites-clash humor - reportedly inspired by his brother Danny's experiences after his marriage broke up. (Simon himself has experienced more than one marital split.)

Although much of the original comedy remains intact, there's one area where "The Odd Couple's" female version improves on its source, Morrow and Sher say: the identities of the title characters' potential romantic interests.

In the original, they're the giggly British Pigeon sisters, who metamorphose in this version into the upstairs neighbors from Spain, the Costazuela brothers (Ayler Evan, Kellan Baker).

"They're far funnier than the Pigeon sisters," Sher says; that's partly because of the language barrier, Morrow adds.

But the essential human comedy that has made "The Odd Couple" an audience favorite for almost a half-century remains as timely - and as welcome - as ever.

"We thought laughter would be a good thing," especially in current tough times, Sher says. "People need to laugh."

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.