There’s a fine line in theater between “period” and “dated.” A play that’s dated is one that’s no longer appropriate for a contemporary audience and may even be offensive to current sensibilities. On the other hand, a period play delights us with its look back at the way we were, as seen through then-contemporary eyes. That’s why, when someone recently described Neil Simon’s Barefoot In The Park as “dated,” my immediate response was, “No, it’s not dated at all. It’s period.”

Barefoot In The Park, for those who may somehow never have seen it on stage or in its 1967 film adaptation, is the then 36-year-old Simon’s look at an “odd couple” of newlyweds, every bit as mismatched as The Odd Couple’s Oscar and Felix. Corie Bratter, described by Simon as “lovely, young, and full of hope for the future” is a joy-filled, adventurous young bride married to an equally young but absolutely unadventurous stuffed shirt of a lawyer husband. (Simon describes Paul Bratter as a man who’s “26 but breathes and dresses like 56.”) How can these two find happiness when fuddy-duddy Paul won’t even take off his shoes and run barefoot in Central Park, freezing winter temperatures be damned?

Yes, times have changed since 1963 when Paul and Corie first set up house in that fifth-floor New York City walkup, and today’s women might scoff at Corie’s delight in being the stay-at-home Mrs. Paul Bratter while fledgling lawyer hubby Paul is out bringing home the bacon. We might just as easily chuckle at Corie’s unabashed joy at getting her very own Princess Phone installed and the need she feels to pretend to her mother that she and Paul are paying considerably less than an outlandish $125 in monthly rent for such a small piece of Manhattan real estate. As far as Corie’s mother being considered “old” at 50, well, in the words of those 1960s Virginia Slims ads, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

No, Barefoot In The Park isn’t a tad dated. What it is is an absolutely delightful period piece. (Those dated Virginia Slims ads are another thing entirely.)

It’s also still every bit as funny as it was when audiences first savored playwright Simon’s gift for the one-liner, many of Barefoot In The Park’s revolving around those five flights of stairs leading up to Paul and Corie’s apartment.

Corie: (to telephone installer) It’s five flights. If you don’t count the stoop.
Phone Man: (gasping for breath) I counted the front stoop!
Paul: (collapsing onto a suitcase) What about that big thing hanging outside the building?
Corie: That’s not a flight. It’s a stoop.
Paul: It may look like a stoop, but it climbs like a flight.
Ethel: (panting) What is it? Nine flights?
Corie: We don’t count the stoop.

If these snippets of dialog aren’t convincing enough, anyone interested in finding out for themselves just why Barefoot In The Park remains ultra-prolific Neil Simon’s longest-running play (and a perennial regional, community, and school favorite) need look no further than its latest revival, at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse under the pitch-perfect direction of Stephanie A. Coltrin.

Patrick Vest proves himself an expert at comic timing—and physical comedy—in an energetic, committed, entirely winning performance as Paul. Opposite him, the delightful Barbara Suiter is perkiness personified as Corie, cries a hilarious offstage crying jag, and shares great stage chemistry with Vest whether squabbling or making up. The letter-perfect work of Kimberly Patterson, stepping into the role of sophisticated fuddy-duddy Ethel with only a few days notice is nothing short of miraculous. A suave Ted Escobar gets plenty laughs as middle-aged lothario Victor Velasco, though perhaps not as many had he played the part with a foreign accent as have others before him. Finally, cast very much against-type, Cylan Brown nails the part of hilariously out-of-breath Harry Pepper, phone company employee extraordinaire.

As always, design elements at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse are first-rate, beginning with scenic designer Christopher Beyries’ downscale apartment (with closet-sized bedroom) which Ric Zimmerman lights expertly. Costumes by Christa Armendariz have a just-right early 1960s look (though Corie’s cascading blonde hairdo is very much late ‘60s), and sound designer Kevin Goold’s musical soundtrack and telephone bells are period perfect. Stacy Davis is production stage manager.

With Barefoot In The Park, director Coltrin and the splendid Hermosa Beach Playhouse once again guarantee a thoroughly professional evening of live entertainment, and the particular treat of seeing a terrific play staged on a classic proscenium stage in a classically designed 500-seat theater. What better way is there to see a Broadway comedy classic?

Hermosa Beach Playhouse, 170 Pier Avenue, Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach.
–Steven Stanley
January 19, 2011
Photos: Alysa Brennan

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