Barefoot in the Park at Two River
Also see Bob's review of Lost In Yonkers
Barefoot in the Park was Neil Simon's second Broadway comedy. Opening in October, 1963, it ran over three and a half years (1500 performances) and remains Simon's longest running play to date. However, unlike any number of more mature and personal, deeper plays that Simon would later write, the light situation comedy Barefoot has become tired and dated.
The thin plot revolves around newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter moving into a tiny sixth-floor walk-up apartment on East 48th Street in Manhattan. Prior to their moving in, only Corie had seen the apartment, which has a for-now unrepairable hole in a far overhead glass skylight. Ethel, Corie's caustic widowed mother from New Jersey, drops in for visits early and often. As will Corie and Paul's attic apartment neighbor, Victor Velasco, an aging, penniless, thrice married Lothario, whom Corie targets to be a suitor for her mother. Some contretemps before and after the four go to Staten Island for dinner at an Albanian restaurant, a marriage threatening fight between Corie and Paul when the latter, who is a lawyer, will not make love to her one night because he must prepare an important case for a trial the next morning some jokes about the apartment comprise most of the play. During their big fight, Corie accuses Paul of being a dull narrow bore, citing his having declined to remove his shoes when they were walking in the park when she had asked him to do so. About two hours and forty minutes after all of this has began, a happy ending ensues when a contrite Paul returns to the apartment, informs Corie that he has just removed his shoes while walking in the park, proving that he is ready to broaden himself for Corie.
While it is not unusual for a successful light comedy not to graduate to classic status, one would hope that Barefoot would remain a humorous period piece illuminating its era. I would venture that Barefoot does not meaningfully reflect its time, the beginning of a turbulent and divisive period in our history. References to products such as Toni Home Permanent and prestigious telephone exchanges do not resonate. Even more tellingly, for escapism will always be a theatrical staple, its characters are cardboard thin stereotypes. Modern day equivalents for the stellar original castthe droll twosome of Mildred Natwick and Kurt Kasznar (Dori and Victor) and the iconic Elizabeth Ashley and Robert Redford (Corie and Paul)would likely make a bit of a difference, but, this senior soul was not particularly taken by this play even when it was in their hands.
Dori Legg draws the biggest laughs as Ethel, turning in a broadly appropriate performance without going overboard. John Wernke is a straight forward Paul, but fails to bring needed charisma or charm to the role. Christopher Councill does not convey the droll humor needed for the role of Victor. The production's biggest misstep is the over-the-top performance of Meg Chambers Steedle. Steedle mugs shamelessly in an effort to milk her laughs. The result is that her Corie is registers as an annoying ninny.
Barefoot in the Park is a rare misstep for director Robert M. Rechnitz, who has memorably directed many a classic American play here. The clever and playable set is the work of Marion Williams. Her set decoration depicting the new look of the apartment after the furniture arrives is this productions high point.
Barefoot in the Park continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Wednesday 1 pm; Saturday & Sunday 3 pm) through February 28, 2010 at the Two River Theatre Company, 21 Bridge Street, Red Bank, New Jersey 07701. Box Office: 732-345- 1400/ on-line: www.trtc.org
Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon; directed by Robert M. Rechnitz