BAREFOOT IN THE PARK

Newlyweds Corrie and Paul Bratter may have moved into their sixth-floor New York City walkup some fifty-five years ago but their story remains as fresh and delightful as it was when Neil Simon first introduced Broadway audiences to Barefoot In The Park back in 1963 in Glendale Centre Theatre pitch-perfect New Year’s 2018 revival.

 Real-life marrieds Stephanie Skewes and Joshua Evans star as the adventurous, joy-filled new bride and her straight-laced, ever prudent groom, whose opposites-attract relationship begs the question how free-spirited Corie and her fuddy-duddy hubby can possibly find eternal bliss when the latter won’t even take off his shoes and run barefoot in Central Park, freezing winter temperatures be damned.

Not that Mrs. Paul Bratter isn’t otherwise the quintessential Kennedy-era housewife, delighted to stay at home in their fifth-floor New York City walk-up while fledgling lawyer Paul heads out to bring home the bacon.

 Contemporary audiences may chuckle (or grimace) at Corie’s unabashed joy when telephone man Harry Pepper (Mark Gates) arrives to install the latest-model Princess in the small piece of Manhattan real estate she and Paul now call home, or the fact that Corie’s mother Ethel (Caron Strong) is considered “old” at fifty, that is until Victor Velasco (Ted Wells), the bohemian ladies’ man living in the attic above the Bratters’ flat, shows up to prove otherwise.

 Still, period pieces don’t get (or stay) any more charming than Barefoot In The Park, every bit as appealing in 2018 as it was when audiences first savored playwright Simon’s gift for the one-liner over half-a-century ago.

Simon mines multiple laughs from the knichi Victor brings over for dinner, salted eel which must be “popped” into the mouth and never nibbled (and entirely a Simon invention), or the purportedly Albanian folk song “Shama Shama,” which according to Victor means “Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care.

 This being the 1960s, cocktails get guzzled in record proportions, giving Evans a hilarious drunk scene and Strong equal time to play hung-over. And because no story of newlyweds would be complete without the requisite spat, Skewes and Evans get to go at it like nobody’s business.

 Having directed a pair of Glendale Centre Theatre Barefoots in decades past, George Strattan proves the ideal choice to helm the comedy classic’s latest GTC revival, his directorial choices revealing a thorough understanding of Neil Simon’s particular brand of comedy, the characters his cast is recreating, and the era in which Barefoot In The Park takes place, some inspired physical comedy bits adding extra zest along the way.

 Skewes makes for a sunny, sparkling, vivacious, utterly winning Corrie, Evans’s handsome, straight-laced Paul keeps getting better—and funnier—the more the button-down lawyer unbuttons, and the Evanses’ natural romantic chemistry makes for a palpable bonus.

 With a chignon as tightly wound as her set-in-her-ways ways, Strong’s Ethel scores comedy points from the get-go … and even more of them when she lets her hair down, and GTC favorite Wells has never been more delightful than he is as the somewhere-in-Europe-accented Victor who teaches Corrie, Paul, and especially Ethel what it is to let your bohemian flag fly.

Gates scores laughs from each and every one of out-of-breath Harry Pepper many zingers, and Rick Steele scores nearly as many in a single minute onstage as a hysterically wheezing delivery man.

 Set designers Nathan Milisavljevich and Strattan make inventive use of Glendale Centre Theatre’s in-the-round playing area, Angela Manke’s costumes capture the ‘60s to perfection as do Amanda Bailey’s properties, Paul Reid lights with flair, and an uncredited sound design brings back memories of the play’s 1967 movie adaptation.

Janet Strattan is assistant to the director. Patrick Gallagher is stage manager.

Whether as a nostalgic trip back in time for post-retirement theatergoers or an entertaining “history lesson” for their grandkids, Glendale Centre Theatre’s 2018 season-opener delivers everything one could possibly wish for from this early Neil Simon gem.

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Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale. Through February 10. Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00. Sunday January 14 at 3:00. Reservations: 818 244-8481
www.glendalecentretheatre.com

–Steven Stanley
January 5, 2018
Photos: Rock With You Photography

 

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