Andy Epstein, Marc McHone, Leila Toba, Andy Szuran, Carol Dines, & George Robert Bailey. Photo: Herschel Zahnd.
Barefoot In The Park
By Neil Simon
Directed by Scott Davis
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright are © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
This is my second review of a Neil Simon play in three days: first Brighton Beach Memoirs at Theatreworks of Southern Indiana, and now Barefoot In The Park, his first major success, as the inaugural production from Tilted Crown Theatre Company. An early play about newlyweds written before the tumultuous social change of the 1960’s, the details may be dated – a telephone installer is an important part of the first act, but the naïve dynamic of the first days of a marriage can still ring true fifty years later.
Corie Bratter (Leila Toba) is moving into a fifth-floor walk-up apartment in NYC. While she waits for new husband Paul (Andy Szuran) to come home from work, she welcomes the telephone installer (Marc McHone) and a deliveryman (George Robert Bailey) while she waits for furniture to be delivered to the empty apartment. After Paul climbs the five flights of stairs – EVERY character enters out of breath, Corie works to be seductive, but then her Mother (Carol Hines) arrives unexpectedly to see the new apartment.
The apartment is tiny, the bedroom just big enough for the bed and the window through which the florid, extravagant neighbor in the attic, Victor Velasco (Andy Epstein) climbs through when he is locked out of his attic apartment for being behind on the rent. It’s February and the heat doesn’t work and the skylight has a hole in it. The scenario is archetypal New York City.
Director Scott Davis neatly uses the actual stairs to the theatre for the crucial scenes of exhausted entry into the apartment and sets his cast at a good pace that exploits the timing and rhythm of Simon’s writing. Barefoot is a milestone in the situation comedy, but in Leila Toba’s performance, Corie can be seen clearly as a character assuredly representative of her moment, an American woman on the cusp of the rise of Feminism. She is not economically independent, and she is preoccupied with trivialities, but the spirit is there, waiting to be awakened. Not to put to much burden on the piece. Toba is funny and charming, to be sure, but the reconsideration of context is part of the point in doing older plays, and her work delivers on that score.
As Paul, Andy Szuran seemed unhappy from the moment he enters and never left that note until closer to the end. Simon certainly contrasts the couple as optimist/pessimist, and when in the middle of the late act two conflicts, Corie declares: “You know what you are? You’re a WATCHER!”, she is identifying the key distinction between the two characters. But even though Paul is a “stuffed shirt”, both roles require charm and comic energy to work, and Szuran was unfortunately stuck in a churlish mode for too long. The character’s dialogue is rife with complaining, but he also needs to show why the beautiful and vivacious Corie would fall in love with him.
Carol Dines brings her veteran’s instincts to Corie’s Mother. A wrong or lazy step and the character could easily fall into cliché, but Dines makes her feel fresh. Andy Epstein is perhaps an unusual casting choice for Victor, but he is clearly having a blast, and matches Dine’s confident professionalism every step and their interactions are fun.
The Telephone Repairman is a minor character to be sure, but Marc McHone knows exactly what to do with it. He perfectly understands the blue-collar NYC service type that Simon is conjuring here and nails it. As the Deliveryman, George Robert Bailey underplays his brief time onstage with a sly resignation and is allowed to slightly upstage his co-stars in his curtain call.
The design work was good, although no credits were included in the program. Given Mr. Davis’ history, one might assume he took charge of the set, and perhaps the cast managed the costumes. However it came to be, the show looked good.
Later in his career as a playwright, Simon would explore the breakdown of marriage, and the aftermath of divorce, but Barefoot in the Park is about the challenge of the first argument, when the honeymoon is over, and Paul and Corie’s argument, while carefully constructed, is childish and over reactive. Both allow themselves to jump conclusions and imagine that the stakes are higher than they really are. Perspective comes with time and experience and Barefoot riotously revels in the impetuousness of youth.
Barefoot In The Park
June 8-10,15-18 @ 7:30 PM
Tilted Crown Theatre Company
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.