Sunday, August 5, 2018

Review of "Barefoot in the Park"

For a good part of the 20th century, from 1961 through 2003, Neil Simon was the most successful and prolific playwright on Broadway.  His output was a staple of regional and community theater productions, it seemed, forever.  [Trivia Note:  He is the only writer to have had four of his works playing simultaneously on the Great White Way.]

While his latter plays, most notably Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound, and Lost in Yonkers have continued to prove popular, his earlier works now appear more anachronistic and dated.  They have seemingly dropped off the radar screen.

This brings us to the production of Barefoot in the Park, Simon’s 1963 hit comedy, currently running at the Sharon Playhouse through August 12th.  The show has its charms and there are scattered laughs throughout the production.  However, this tale of two newlyweds starting off life together in New York City comes across more as a relic of bygone days.

The plot is simple.  Corie Bratter, a woman full of life in her mid-20’s, and Paul Bratter, a junior lawyer, have been married for just about a week before setting up house in a six story Manhattan walk-up.  Besides the steep climb, there are problems with their new abode, which causes consternation and some angst.  Adding to the young couple’s adjustment is Corie’s widowed mother, Mrs. Banks and Victor Velasco, an idiosyncratic charmer living on the rooftop apartment.  As the action progresses the trials and tribulations of starting life together shows some strain.  Slight misunderstandings and spats turn into something much grander, which become magnified with the involvement of the two “mature” adults, before a happy resolution is realized.

Neil Simon’s strength has always been his ability to mine the everyday, especially when it comes to marriage, with amusing circumstances and characters.  When Barefoot in the Park originally opened, its situational comedy style was hip and refreshing, but now seems tame and out of favor. 

The older cast members—Rex Smith as the flamboyant neighbor Victor Velasco and Susan Cella as Mrs. Banks—are very comfortable in their roles and elevate the quality of the production.  Smith, a 70’s heartthrob singer and actor, cultivates a bon vivant and lively spirit.  He adds a spark to the play whenever he sashays on stage.  Ms. Cella is a wonderful counterpoint to Smith—a ying to his yang.  More low-key in her performance she, nonetheless, has a light comedic touch, which produces some of the funnier moments of the play.  Rebecca Tucker, can be somewhat hyperactive and scatterbrained in her role as the recently wed Corie Bratter.  Like actor Craig Bryant Belwood, who portrays husband Paul, there could have been more nuance and variation to their performances.

Randall Parson’ set design, with its large vertical windows towering over the stage, perfectly captures the look and feel of a small, cramped New York City apartment.  Think of a much more modest version of Monica and Rachel’s dwelling in the TV series Friends.

Director Clayton Phillips brings a mostly harried pacing to the production.  This is coupled with occasional kooky and humorous episodes. The interactions that include Rex Smith and Susan Cella work better as there is more effervescence to their scenes.  He does an excellent job creating the illusion of a tiny NYC apartment and the utter exhaustion of mounting six flights of stairs.  There could have, however, been more subtlety in guiding Ms. Tucker and Mr. Belwood through their paces.

Barefoot in the Park, a weathered Neil Simon warhorse, playing through August 12th.

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