Hilary Ford, Michelle Lori, & Ryan T. Land. Photo: TheatreWorks of So In.
Barefoot In The Park
By Neil Simon
Directed by J.R. Stuart
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright are © 2019 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Once upon a time, Neil Simon was a new, hot playwright on Broadway. Although not his first play, the huge reputation that one day would merit a Broadway house bearing his name began with Barefoot In The Park, the quintessential romantic comedy. Its journey from a smash hit on stage to successful Hollywood movie to TV sitcom is also one of the first examples of mass medium hopping.
The details of the first days of Paul and Corie Bratter’s marriage (Ryan T. Land and Hilary Ford) are dated to be sure. The opening scenes involve a telephone installer (Corey King) placing a hard-wired, rotary dial device in the fifth-floor walk-up that serves as the newlyweds’ new home. The heat is supposed to coming from a steam radiator – it doesn’t work, and the best feature of the tiny one-room apartment is a skylight – with a glass pane missing that allows the February air to move freely through space. An unexpected visit from Corie’s mother (Michelle Lori) before the furniture arrives doesn’t help matters.
Simon captures the state of marriage at the point of transition between Eisenhower’s America and Kennedy’s Camelot, the last gasp of romantic idealism before the upheaval and lost innocence of the 1960s. It may seem a reach, but Corie strikes me as a prescient character, one who foreshadows the Women’s Movement.
I’m not sure if there is a better fit of director for this kind of material than J.R. Stuart. His well-honed veteran instincts mean he can overcome that dated quality and make the play sound fresh and new. Curiously, he accomplishes this in part by leaning into the period without precociousness, in subtle but unmistakable ways: Corie’s pronounced false eyelashes, Paul’s strict haircut, the manner in which he keeps his neckties looking neat by keeping them pressed between the pages of a double-thick dictionary.
Even more importantly, he encourages his able cast to push the action with an abundance of zany energy that is a page right out of the period. To underplay would be a disaster, but for the most part, they pitch just below the curve of outrageousness to find the right recipe of silliness and charm.
When Corie generates conflict by pushing her widowed mother into a blind date with the eccentric upstairs neighbor Victor Velasco (a just about perfect Jason M. Jones) the argument escalates as only it can between two people in love, a screeching, door slamming, manic action sequence. Pushing things to the precipice and keeping it from slipping over the edge is the work of the director, establishing a tone that allows the players to reach heightened levels of burlesque timing and delivery. Hilary Ford becomes so filled with red-faced fury that you’re sure she will burst a blood vessel, and Ryan T. Land is fearless in throwing his lanky frame around the stage for slapstick effect. Her perky, almost Pollyannish charm plays neatly off of his stiff, unyielding conservatism, but it still makes you wonder if marriage is ever a good idea.
Michelle Lori finds the same comic energy, even if her Jersey accent betrayed some fluctuation, and Mr. Jones is a delight as Velasco. Cody King makes the most of the Telephone Repairman, wry and caustic and then a moment of tender empathy just when it is needed. In the cameo role of a Delivery Man too winded to speak, Rudy Owen is more memorable than you would expect for a tiny part with no dialogue.
Chris Bundy once again does wonders with his Set Design, lending an illusion of depth, an unseen five flights of stairs, and a marvelous corner window that is adequate (barely) for the key moments of rooftop action.
Barefoot In The Park
March 6 – 9, 13 – 16 @ 7:30 pm
March 10 & 17 @ 2:00 pm
TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana
203 E. Main Street
New Albany, In 47150
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.
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