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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Great Cast in the Marin Classic Production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park

Also see Richard's review of Urinetown

The Marin Classic Theatre is presenting the early Neil Simon comedy Barefoot in the Park through July 20th. The play still holds up in this modern day world and Simon’s dialogue is bubbly and full of energy. Director Michael Paul Thomsett has wisely kept the time in the ’60s, since several regional companies have attempted unsuccessfully to update the time to the late nineties. Thomsett has also assembled an excellent cast of actors with perfect timing for a Simon play.

Barefoot opened at the Biltmore Theatre on October 23, 1963, and it ran until June 25, 1967, for an amazing 1530 performances. The New York Times said about the dialogue, “Mr. Simon evidently has no aspirations except to be diverting, and he achieves those with a dash of a highly skilled writer.” I saw the production in November 1963 with a stellar cast that included a young Robert Redford as Paul, Elizabeth Ashley as Corie, Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Banks and Kurt Kasznar as Victor. Later, the comedy became a successful MGM movie with Jane Fonda taking over the role of newly married wife Corie and Charles Boyer playing Victor. Since that time, almost every regional theater has presented this work.

The play takes place on the top floor apartment of a brownstone without an elevator on East 48th Street, New York. Regional theaters either make the top floor the 5th or 6th floor to create one of the continuing jokes involving people being tired after climbing the stairs. It seems nobody ran in the ’60s and every one is out of shape after that climb.

Corie (Heather Marie Gordon) and Paul (H.D. Southerland) are newlyweds and this is their first apartment together. She has picked out the walkup without Paul even seeing the place. The apartment is a disaster when Paul arrives for the first time. There is little or no heat (it’s February at the time of the play), a bathroom with no tub (Paul loves to lounge in a tub), a bedroom just large enough to fit a single bed, and a very large hole in the skylight overhead where snow sprinkles into the living room. Corie and Paul are as opposite as night and day. Corie is carefree, impulsive with wonderful spunk and unending optimism. Paul is a bit conservative, stodgy, and grounded in reality and maturity. Just how these two will fare is anyone’s guess.

As the three act play progresses, Paul finds his wife’s boundless zeal to be tiresome. Thrown into this comedy is Corie's mother Mrs. Banks (Linda Paplow), an interesting character who is somewhat grim about her current life of living in New Jersey. Victor Velasco(Artie Gilbert) keeps things moving as the zesty, vaguely European neighbor who likes ethnic food and lives in a attic upstairs.

The first act sets up all of these characters very nicely while most of the action takes place in the remaining two acts. The big question is can these two different personalities stay together? Barefoot attempts to answer this dilemma in the third act.

All of the actors in this production are outstanding. Heather Marie Gordon is a wonderful find as Corie Bratter. She is vivacious with a great theater voice; she should go far on the acting track. H.D. Southerland gives a solid performance as Paul Bratter and he is outstanding in the second and third act. Linda Paplow as the mother is sweet and she displays a great comic sense in her scenes in the second act. Artie Gilbert as Victor rivals the acting of the three as the loosely foreign upstairs neighbor. He is completely hammy in his walk and talk and fun to watch.

There are two other minor characters in this sophisticated comedy. Martin Cate plays the telephone installer, and he is excellent in his two brief scenes as a typical Manhattan phone engineer. Ben Colteaux makes the most of his 2 minute scene as a delivery man who has just climbed all of those stairs with a bundle of packages from Lord & Taylor. He brings down the house with his huffing and puffing and his two lines. I almost wish he would climb those stairs again in the second and third act.

The set works surprisingly well on this very long stage, where the audience sits on the left side and the stage is on the right side. It is like the television studios where sitcoms are made. The couple gets a workout running all over the long stage in the third act. Michael Paul Thomsett does a bang up job on the direction and he keeps the action going at a fast pace. Barefoot is a fun night at the theater.

Barefoot in the Park continues thru July 20th at The Playhouse, 27 Kensington Road, San Anselmo. For tickets call 415-892-8551 or visit www.NCTHeathre.com.

The next production at The Playhouse will begin in October, when the company presents Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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