Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot centers on Corie and Paul Bratter, a couple who were married six days ago and who have just moved into their New York City apartment. While the high-spirited and animated Corie is almost the polar opposite from the strait-laced Paul, the two are clearly in love. However, will the drawbacks of living in a small, fifth-floor walkup (six if you count the outside stoop), which makes Paul out of breath every time he comes home, and frequent unplanned visits from Corie's well-meaning but critical mother and their eccentric upstairs neighbor, break the newlyweds apart?
The marital situations Simon created may have been realistic in the 1960s, but they are dated today. Fortunately, under Diedra Celeste Miranda's confident direction, the entire cast have no problem instilling Simon's sharp and witty dialogue with the correct amount of refined subtlety and comic inflection to elicit laughs. They also do a good job in creating funny and realistic characters. Miranda and her cast allow for the marital squabbles and misunderstandings that happen in the second half of the show to grow naturally so they don't seem unnatural or out of place from the comic first half.
Christine Conger is entirely engaging as the chatty and energetic Corie. Corie loves life and, as her mother says, gets a kick out of living, and her joyous nature is infectious in Conger's excellent portrayal. David Michael Paul is equally adept in depicting Paul's serious and somewhat intense demeanor. We clearly see in his realistic portrayal that Paul loves his wife yet he is also not certain how to accurately understand and handle Corie's uninhibited, flighty, and carefree nature. The two play off each other very well and create a believable, but somewhat mismatched, newlywed couple.
In supporting parts, Dyana Carroll gets big laughs through a fine-tuned performance, comical facial expressions, and humorous line delivery. Justin Howell is larger than life as Corie and Paul's eccentric neighbor. While these characters are mostly used for comic relief, both Carroll and Howell ensure they are also realistic individuals. As a man who works for the telephone company, Will Hightower gets some of the best lines in the show, which he delivers to great effect.
Miranda's staging makes good use of Hale's in-the-round space with the intimacy it provides and, along with Brian Daily's compact set elements, works well to depict the very small apartment that Corie and Paul have rented. Tia Hawkes' costumes and Cambrian James' wigs and make-up provide period touches that beautifully ground the show in the 1960s. While most of the play is set during the bright early-evening hours, Tim Dietlein's lighting design also expertly renders the cool, dark shadows of a very late night in one scene.
Barefoot in the Park may not have been written with the intricacies of expertly combining comedy with drama that Simon exhibited so well in some of his later works, and it may not be as funny as his The Odd Couple or some of the farces Hale has presented in the past. However, it does have warm, funny characters and comical situations, and with a winning cast and expert direction, Hale's production makes for a charming trip back to the 1960s.
Barefoot in the Park runs through February 8, 2020, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, visit www.haletheatrearizona.com or call 480-497-1181
Directed by Diedra Celeste Miranda