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'Odd' characters to bring familiar themes to the Whitaker stage


April 03, 2018

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There has never been a couple more odd than Olive Madison and Florence Unger. Just ask Brandi Harvey and Christie McLendon, who will play the duo in The Odd Couple, Female Version, April 19-21 at the Whitaker Black Box Theater. There will also be a 3 p.m. matinee on April 22.

The story is like the classic Neil Simon play: messy Olive and neat freak Florence make for an unusual set of roommates, but Olive invites Florence to move in with her after Florence’s divorce, and the results are, well, hilarious.

Local audiences will be familiar with both Harvey and McLendon. The duo just finished another performance of the hit show Always…Patsy Cline, which first hit the local stage a year ago. Both women are local fixtures on the Averitt stage. In addition to her role as Cline, Harvey has played Annie Sullivan in a 2016 production of The Miracle Worker. She has also become known as “the voice of downtown,” regularly taking the mic at various events as a vocalist.

McLendon is a regular performer in the Tribute to Mayberry show, which brings the beloved characters from The Andy Griffith Show to the stage. She recently starred in the Averitt’s production of Guys and Dolls, as Miss Adelaide. Her breakout role in the Boro was in South Pacific, when she had to step up after an understudy dropped out 10 days before the show opened.

Both women are excited to work together again.

“I am looking forward to working with Brandi again. She is such an immensely talented singer but most people might not be aware of what a great actress she is, too. The rest of the cast is full of talented actors who are really going to bring the characters to life. This should be a fun and lively production with a ton of laughs,” said McLendon.

Speaking of her role, McLendon said, “The role of Florence is completely opposite of me. She is whiny, OCD and frankly, a nervous wreck.” She added that Florence seems to get her self-worth from her skills as a housewife, but does seem to find some happiness by the end of the play.

But to make the role her own, McLendon plans to add “a little of my own snarky sense of humor.”

“I’ve never played a character like this before, and I’m so looking forward to the challenge, to see if I can be funny with a personality that is so different than my own,” she said. She has been working to make her version of Florence very expressive, with over-the-top reactions.

McLendon was looking forward to working with director Ashley Morgan as well.

“She is full of fun ideas and new ways of looking at things. I think our production will be different just from having her fun and unique creative energy on set,” she said.

Harvey says she realized during the first read-through of the play that her character, Olive, is actually a lot like her.

“She’s a very witty and sarcastic recent divorcee with a strong focus on her career. I’d like to think I’m not as sloppy as she is, but I can relate to the fact that when you’re working hard on a career, some things can get neglected.  However, I’m not a sports fanatic like she is, and she doesn’t have kids, so that makes her outlook and interactions a little different from mine,” she said.

It will be easy to slip into the character, Harvey said, because of the similarities.

“I tend to be a little more tenderhearted from the start than Olive is, so I’ve got to come at it from a slightly different angle. I’m already hearing and seeing elements of people close to me in the character, as well, though. So, I think I’ll be probably drawing on what I know of them to find the right voice for her,” she said.

What she loves about Olive, Harvey said, is her sense of humor and how much she genuinely cares for her friends. What she doesn’t like, she adds, are the things that frustrate her about herself.

“She doesn’t worry about keeping her house clean and, to be honest, as a woman with a ton of responsibilities, it can get out of hand for me, too. I think she cares less about it, though. I can’t imagine living in the state she does,” she said, shuddering.

Harvey said the biggest challenge for her thus far in this role came during the read-through — keeping a straight face.

“It’s hilarious, and the lines are so funny. There are some lines that I get to smirk a little about, but sometimes I genuinely have to be the straight man, and it’s tough!” she said.

Both Harvey and McLendon recognize that with today’s headlines, a play focused on the female perspective carries some significance.

“I love that this play is about a group of women who really love and support each other. It reminds me a lot of some of my friends,” said Harvey. “The subject of women in the work force and such isn’t as uncommon today as it was when the play was written, but it’s still always wonderful to get to be a part of a show that shows empowered women standing on their own and supporting one another.”

McLendon agrees.

“Today’s modern woman is represented in Olive; she is already divorced, independent, has a job and is supporting herself. Then you have Florence, living the more traditional role, the housewife; her job is her family and her home. There are references to the Women’s Lib movement of the 80s and women’s rights issues in general, but since this play was written for basically an all-male cast, you can see how these issues affect all genders. Learning to stand on your own, learning how to accept your shortcomings, the respite we find in our friendships are things we can all relate to, male or female,” she said.

“When women stand together, they can be such a compelling force for positive change in one another and in society as a whole,” Harvey said.

The show begins each night at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $16, and can be purchased by calling (912) 212-2787, or go online at www.averittcenterforthearts.org.


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