INNOCENCE AND LIGHT
Talent, charm, honesty help carry the day
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or find him at Twitter.com/IntheWings61.
Jordan Campbell and Leah Pritchard perform in “Barefoot in the Park,” playing at the Watermark Theatre until Aug. 26.