Tal­ent, charm, hon­esty help carry the day

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - Colm Mag­ner

Guardian re­viewer says tal­ent, charm, hon­esty help carry the day for ‘Bare­foot in the Park’

When Neil Si­mon’s new­ly­wed com­edy “Bare­foot in the Park” pre­miered on Broad­way in 1963, a mere 43 years since the 19th Amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion gave women the right to vote, they were well on their way to dis­card­ing their moth­ers’ nup­tial ad­vice to “just lay back, close your eyes, and think of the Queen.”

The play tells the story of Corie Brat­ter, a free-spir­ited young wife, and Paul Brat­ter, a young rather tight-but­toned lawyer, who move into the top floor of a brown­stone in New York City and quickly be­gin to learn the chal­lenges of mar­ried life. It ran on Broad­way at the Bilt­more Theatre for 1530 per­for­mances, mak­ing it the 10th long­est-run­ning non-mu­si­cal hit in Broad­way’s his­tory.

Though it also re­ceived plenty of neg­a­tive re­views from some tough New York crit­ics (and rightly so — the stair gag alone gets pretty tired by the sec­ond act), this par­tic­u­lar pro­duc­tion demon­strates that it can still en­ter­tain and that hard work, tal­ent, charm and hon­esty can help carry the day.

Di­rec­tor Robert Tsonos sets the play in the time pe­riod in which it was writ­ten, a wise choice be­cause this play is very much of its time. Though “lib­er­ated” in ways, Corie is still her mother’s daugh­ter — set­ting up house and pleas­ing her hus­band, Paul, are clearly her pri­mary con­cerns in life. Si­mon then weaves a thin-but-work­able plot in­volv­ing her mother, an up­stairs neigh­bour and what must be the friendli­est phone-in­stal­la­tion man in the en­tire world into an ef­fec­tive light com­edy.

“Bare­foot in the Park” is in the tra­di­tion of the “well-made play,” a 19th-cen­tury in­ven­tion that still ex­ists in form to­day be­cause, well, it works.

Char­ac­ters are con­structed to be be­liev­able, and the struc­ture is de­signed to hold the at­ten­tion of an au­di­ence.

Tsonos has de­cided, thank­fully, to play it straight, play it hon­est and, there­fore, get it right.

This par­tic­u­lar pro­duc­tion works well be­cause the ac­tors cre­ate char­ac­ters we care about. Leah Pritchard (Corie) and Jor­dan Camp­bell (Paul) have gen­uine chem­istry to­gether, an in­no­cent qual­ity which is very

watch­able and per­fectly suited to the play.

They are sur­rounded by sea­soned char­ac­ter ac­tors Ian Deakin (Vic­tor Ve­lasco) and Jerry Getty (Tele­phone Man), Paul Whe­lan as the De­liv­ery­man in a brief- but-funny lit­tle turn and Gra­cie Fin­ley as Corie’s mother, Ethel Banks, all of whom pro­vide solid char­ac­ter-ac­tor sup­port.

One glar­ing gaffe in this pro­duc­tion is the un­for­tu­nate ini­tial cos­tume de­sign pro­vided Fin­ley. De­signer Bon­nie Deakin has Mrs. Banks en­ter look­ing sus­pi­ciously like a blue flu­o­res­cent cir­cus clown, in drag. My first thought was: “Good lord, you’ve got to be kid­ding. That wig!! That coat!!” This is not a bud­getary mat­ter -- an au­di­ence would likely be per­fectly fine if Fin­ley en­tered without the bad wig (even if her own nat­u­ral hair hap­pened not to be per­fectly “pe­riod” style), and there must be a more muted coat ly­ing around in some wardrobe depart­ment some­where.

Aside from that mi­nor oddity in de­sign, this is good sum­mer fare, worth a visit sim­ply be­cause it is played with gen­uine com­mit­ment. And, be­sides, there are two in­ter­mis­sions — plenty of time to get your­self a lit­tle tipsy if your own mar­riage is feel­ing less than new.

Colm Mag­ner, who is a mem­ber of the Cana­dian Theatre Crit­ics As­so­ci­a­tion, has worked as a play­wright, ac­tor, di­rec­tor and teacher for more than 30 years. His col­umn, In the Wings, will ap­pear reg­u­larly dur­ing the sum­mer. To reach him, email inthew­ or find him at Twit­­ings61.


Jor­dan Camp­bell and Leah Pritchard per­form in “Bare­foot in the Park,” play­ing at the Water­mark Theatre un­til Aug. 26.

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