Stage Crafters brings laughs with female ‘The Odd Couple’

Nancy Kruzek (left) and Stacy Smith star in the female version of “The Odd Couple.”

Every actor worth his greasepaint will tell you that comedy is hard.

In their production of “The Odd Couple,” female version, Stage Crafters Community Theatre Inc. makes comedy look easy.

Laughs rolled from an appreciative audience during a preview performance Monday night at the Fort Walton Beach Municipal Auditorium.

Chris LaPorta, who is making her directing debut with Stage Crafters, and the legendary Nancy Kruzek, who has been with Stage Crafters since it began 42 seasons ago, deserve much of the credit.

I pretty much adore everything Kruzek does. She directed the season opener, “The Sound of Music,” and will co-direct the season closer, “Damn Yankees.” Last season she played a journalist striving to be relevant after 9/11.

Starring in this show, Kruzek treats us to her impeccable portrayal of lovable slob Olive Madison.

“I leave a mess when I read a book,” she says explaining the extent of her slobbyness.

“Some of my favorite fingerprints are on that telephone.”

“Fighting, I win; pouting, you win.”

It’s one great line after another, and Kruzek delivers them all to maximum effect.

Playing counterpoint is Stacy Smith as the fastidious, not-nearly-as lovable Florence Unger. Smith manages to be most convincing as the neurotic Florence.

She is one of four actors making their debuts with Stage Crafters. The others are Susan Barnes as policewoman Mickey, Carol Anne Thomas as Renee and Michelle Hall as Vera.

All are well cast and excellent. I particularly enjoyed Hall as the naïve Vera maybe because she gets picked on by the other characters, especially the impatient, sharp-tongued Sylvie, played by Jennifer King.

Rusty Christensen and Alan Tuttle almost steal the show with their hilarious characters, Jesus and Manolo, two Spanish brothers who live in the same apartment building as Olive. Everything about them is hilarious – their matching outfits, their mannerisms, their command of English or lack thereof.

When Olive leaves Florence alone with the brothers to fend for herself, what happens might surprise you but it will definitely make you laugh.

The show is set in the mid-1980s, and great attention to detail is evident in the costumes, hairstyles, set dressing and props. Barnes doubled up as costumer along with Gloria Eustice and Jim Eustice. Jean Hood and Don Hood are propmasters, and Don Goodrum took on set dressing.

The ladies gather weekly at Olive’s place to play Trivial Pursuit, a hugely popular ’80s game that threads throughout the play. And while it isn’t a musical, iconic music shows up in some key scenes and also sets the mood before curtain time and during intermission.

Don’t forget to check out the displays in the lobby, too. You’ll see lots of things that bring back fond memories if you were around in the ’80s.

Carol Owen is producer of the show while Pamela J. Strecker is stage manager. She is also the current president of Stage Crafters. Assistant stage managers are April Bobo, Shalyce Klimetz and Katherine Sears.

Kevin Clemons designed the set and oversaw construction. Sound designer is Ed Starkey, and lighting designer is Jerry Medders.

The show opens Friday night and runs Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. It continues Aug. 15-17. Friday and Saturday curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinees start at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $15 at the door or at P.S. Gifts in Fort Walton Beach and Bayou Books in Niceville. You may also purchase tickets on the website www.stagecrafters.com.

Two special notes:

Stage Crafters originally planned to close this season with a production of “Guys and Dolls.” Because a professional touring company of that show is scheduled to come to the area, the rights are restricted and Stage Crafters will not be able to do it.

Instead, as I alluded to earlier, they will cap the season with the musical “Damn Yankees” co-directed by Kruzek and Goodrum. The new dates are Nov. 14-16 and Nov. 21-23.

Also, the program includes an in memoriam to Walter Steigleman, who died recently. I didn’t know him personally, but I enjoyed his work with Stage Crafters on numerous occasions. He was a member for many years serving on the board, as president, and an actor and director.

He had an exuberant presence on stage and off and an infectious laugh. In what might have been his last role for Stage Crafters, he played Benjamin Franklin in the 2009 production of “1776.”

My condolences to his family and friends. He will be missed.