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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Fleet-Footed Barefoot in the Park
at Village Theatre

Barefoot in the Park
MJ Sieber and Jessica Skerritt
Forty-five years after it debuted on Broadway, Barefoot in the Park, Neil Simon's second play on the Great White Way, is an engaging trifle, but then it always was. The temptation to monkey with its presentation led to a failed Broadway revival in the 2006-2007 Broadway season. Happily, Jeff Steitzer's jovially directed and ideally cast version at Village Theatre is just what the show needs and deserves.

Loosely based on Simon's own early wedded days with his beloved wife Joan, Barefoot details the comic misadventures of young attorney Paul Bratter and his spunky, free-spirited wife Corie in their first cramped apartment which numbers as its features a hole in the skylight and a five-flight climb from the building entrance to the apartment. The young couple has barely moved in and crammed furnishings into their tiny abode, when they are hosting Corie's rather prim but charming Mother Ethel Banks and an eccentric neighbor Victor Velasco. After a misbegotten dinner out on Staten Island, an inebriated Corie and Velasco, and a vexed Mrs. Banks and Paul return, and the young couple have a knock-down, drag-out fight. The following day it appears the new marriage may be on the rocks, and Mrs. Banks has gone missing. Things verge on the slapstick as all the problems are ironed out, and the Bratter's kiss and make-up.

As Paul Bratter, MJ Sieber subtly maneuvers Paul from loving newlywed and composed young attorney to drunken, sniffling basket case. Indeed, I have never seen act three of this play draw more laughs, and the lion's share of them are earned by the sublime buffoonery of Mr. Sieber. The always attractive and personable Jessica Skerritt seemed just a bit strained in the play's opening moments, with her voice going into an annoyingly high register at times, but opening-night nerves were probably afoot, as by act two she appeared most comfortable in Corie's skin, and in act three her banter with Sieber proved well modulated and most amusing. The husband and wife team of Ellen McLain and John Patrick Lowrie have a grand time together as Mrs. Banks and Mr. Velasco, an opposites-attract pair if ever there was one. Ms. McLain mixes mother love, bemusement and an underlying wild child adroitly in creating her character, and Mr. Lowrie creates a charming roué who finally has to admit his wild days may be behind him. John Deveney gets good chuckles out of his two brief scenes as a telephone man, and Jim Orr cameos with charming eccentricity as a Lord & Taylor deliveryman. Director Steitzer keeps the pace brisk and the shtick at bay, letting the show be the valentine that it is.

Other than seeming rather too spacious, scenic designer Steven Capone captures the bohemian charm of a '60s vintage New York apartment, accentuated by Greg Sullivan's attractive lighting and costumes by Alex Jaeger which suggest the period but don't make fun of it.  Frothy romantic fun is what Barefoot in the Park is selling, and despite the winter snow and chill in Puget Sound, it seems likely that Village audiences will welcome it.

Barefoot in the Park runs through March 2, 2008 at Village Theatre, 303 Front Street North, Issaquah, and March 7-23 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue, Everett. For more information got to www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh



- David Edward Hughes



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