Neil Simon’s Barefoot In The Park may be 45 years old, but you’d never know it from the fresh and consistently funny revival it’s getting at Glendale Centre Theatre. Corie Bratter’s powder blue Princess telephone with its rotary dial may be a relic of the sixties, and there’s not a computer or plasma TV in sight, but Simon’s gifts as the master of the one-line gag aren’t even a tad dated in this, only his 2nd Broadway comedy.

Simon’s tale of newlyweds moving into their first New York apartment could almost as easily be taking place in 2009, with telephone workers, delivery men, recently wed grooms, and suburban mothers arriving equally winded from climbing up five flights of stairs.

Take for instance this exchange between newlyweds Paul, Corie, and Corie’s struggling-for-breath mother Ethel:

Ethel:   I can’t breathe.
Corie:   Take it easy, Mother.
Ethel:   I can’t catch my breath.
Paul:    You should have rested.
Ethel:   I did, but there were always more stairs.
Corie:   Paul, help her.
Paul:    Watch this step.
Ethel:   More stairs?
Corie:   Mother, would you like a glass of water?
Ethel:   No, thank you, dear. I can’t swallow yet.
Corie:   It’s not that high, Mother.
Paul:    It’s not bad, really.
Ethel:   What is it, nine flights?
Paul:    It’s five. We don’t count the front stoop.
Ethel:   If I had known the people on the third floor, I’d have gone to visit them. 

Could there be better examples of Simon’s legendary genius at writing justly famed surprise one-line jokes?

For those who may have missed the 1967 movie version, which starred Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Mildred Natwick, Charles Boyer, and Herb Edelman, Barefoot In The Park asks the question, “Can a sensible stuffed-shirt of an attorney and his romantic spur-of-the-moment bride find marital bliss, or will their differences prove too much to overcome?” Though the answer is one that even a nitwit could guess, it’s the getting there that makes the play a perennial treat.

Under the crackerjack direction of Diedra Celeste Miranda, GCT’s sensational cast of five deliver Simon’s rapid-fire dialog with perfect comic timing, losing nary a laugh from start to finish. 

As newlyweds Corie and Paul, Abigail Kochunas and Michael McKiddy are a non-stop delight.  Kochunas (a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Winona Ryder) and McKiddy (a young Jack Lemmon) have the looks, spontaneity, and comedic chops that could easily see them helming a sitcom in the not-so-distant future. (McKiddy particularly is an adept physical comedian, as his drunken attempts simply to put on an overcoat prove, and Kochunas confirms that an actress can be a stunner and a laugh-getter at the same time.) Stephanie Jones gives Broadway and movie original Natwick a run for her money as Corie’s widowed mother swept off her feet by Hungarian upstairs neighbor Victor Velasco, portrayed with gusto by Dean Ricca. Kyle Kelley completes the cast entertainingly as gasping-for-breath telephone man Harry Pepper, both of his appearances earning him rounds of applause.

The play gets multiple laughs from Victor’s foreignness, and Ricca milks them for whatever they’re worth, whether it’s the “knichi” he brings for dinner (salted eel which must be “popped” into the mouth and never nibbled, and entirely a Simon invention), or the supposedly Albanian folk song “Shama Shama,” which according to Victor means “Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care.) This being the 1960s, cocktails are guzzled in record proportions, giving McKiddy a great drunk scene and Jones equal time to play hung-over.  And because no story of newlyweds would be complete without the requisite spat, Kochunas and McKiddy get to spend most of Act 3 planning their divorce before the wedding license has even arrived.  (Don’t worry. No one gets divorced in Barefoot In The Park.)

Angela Wood and Glendale Costumes have come up with pitch-perfect early 60s gear (Kochunas’s are very Audrey Hepburn circa Breakfast At Tiffany’s) and Tim Dietlein’s set design skillfully suggests a New York walkup on GTC’s in-the-round stage.  

Jones’ mismatched (and unnecessary) “extra hair” in Act 3 proves a minor design mishap (and distraction), as does a gas range without burner grates (Corie puts the coffee pot right on the burner), and a contemporary phone jack which makes the repairman look awfully silly trying to fix Corie’s phone turning his screwdriver against solid plastic. Not biggies, but distracting nonetheless.

Overall, this is an excellent production of a contemporary comedy classic that wears its age better than most of the era. With an enchanting pair of leads and fine supporting performances, GCT’s Barefoot In The Park is a winner all around.

Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.

–Steven Stanley
January 3, 2009

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