A gay version of Neil Simon's 'Odd Couple' can't help but be funny
Thai theatregoers have seen “The Odd Couple” many times, both Neil Simon’s original version with Oscar and Felix and his “update” with a female couple – playing Trivial Pursuit rather than poker.
Neil Simon did not, however, write the “queer version” that’s about to be staged in Bangkok. It’s called, startlingly enough, “Rak Na Edok”, which means “Love Ya, Bitch!”
It comes from Bhanbhassa Dhubthien, who in the 1990s as a young drama student at Thammasat University translated “The Female Odd Couple” into Thai for a student production titled “Phuying Kab Bangsing Thi Na Chuanhua” (“Women with Something Hilarious”).
So the Thai affinity for the 1965 American classic lives on, having begun in the 1980s when American director Asa Zagorski presented the original here with a cast that included Janaprakal Chandruang and then-newcomer Nakorn Silachai.
Two years ago there was a comedy penned by Nakorn, starring Theeradej “Ken” Wongpuapan and Ruengrit “Willy” McIntosh, that was freely adapted from Simon’s hit.
Bhanbhassa, Thailand’s sole member of the celebrated Actors Studio, says both male and female versions of “The Odd Couple” struck the right chords because the show “deals with many issues. There’s friendship, marriage, living together, differences, etc, and different types of people can relate to one or the other at different moments.
“Simon is a master storyteller. His situation comedies come across as very natural. His jokes are rarely specific to a certain time or place. And when a work of art is so solidly based in reality, it’s universal, immortal.”
Bhanbhassa – now a theatre professor at Chulalongkorn University addressed as Khru Ning – says the idea for a gay twist came from Thammasat juniors who now run Democrazy Theatre Studio. They’d seen her production of “The Female Odd Couple”.
She seized on the suggestion and worked with playwright-actor Jaturachai Srichanwanpen to turn “The Female Odd Couple” back into men – this time homosexual.
“Rak Na Edok” is being presented as part of Democrazy’s new Demo Home Made series, for which artists from different groups are invited to turn its concepts into realities.
“I like the gay twist,” says Bhanbhassa. “We’ve set it in modern Bangkok, just as Simon used modern New York. Other than that we’ve kept most of Simon’s original lines, characters and situations, though, of course, the queer version has plenty of Thai gay slang.”
She notes that gays have “many different levels of femininity” as well as widely varying taste.
“That’s a challenge for me as a director and for our gay actors. The characters they’re portraying are quite different from their own personalities, and they do things the actors would never do in real life.
“And a few of our actors are straight and have never played a gay character, like TV Munk’s Watthanachai Treedecha. But Watthanachai is playing a Thai version of [Vogue magazine’s hi-so editor] Anna Wintour, so we’re having fun with it!”
Jaturachai, last seen in New Theatre Society’s “Chao Rok”, and Bandit Kaewanna, from B-Floor Theatre’s “Lear and His Three Daughters”, are the Odd Couple this time around – two friends with opposite personalities forced to live together when one of them breaks up with his boyfriend.
Veteran actor-director Damkerng Thitapiyasak, who made a surprising cameo performance in “Chao Rok”, will portray a middle-aged police officer.
The laughter is virtually guaranteed.
“The Odd Couple (Queer Version)” runs from August 23 to September 10 at Democrazy Theatre Studio near the Lumpini subway station.
The shows are at 8pm and also at 2pm on the Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets cost Bt390 if you book before August 20 and Bt450 thereafter (Bt300 for student if booked by this Wednesday). Call (089) 126 7112.
Learn more on the “Democrazy Studio” Facebook page.