Players Run Barefoot in the Park

Community Players will kick off its 96th season with Barefoot in the Park, one of the most beloved plays of one of Broadway’s most successful comic playwrights, Neil Simon.

Simon, who died just one year ago at the age of 91, was a child of the Great Depression who used comedy as a way of hiding from an unhappy home life.  After a stint in the air force, he teamed with his brother Danny to write radio and television scripts.  The two were eventually hired to write for one of TV’s biggest hits, Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, joining a staff that included such future legends as Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen.  At the end of the 1950s, Simon moved on to write for The Phil Silvers Show.

After three years of work, Simon premiered his first Broadway play, Come Blow Your Horn, in 1961.  It was a smash hit and was followed quickly by several more hits, including Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Sweet Charity, The Star-Spangled Girl, Plaza Suite, The Last of the Red-Hot Lovers, and Promises, Promises.  By the end of the decade, he was Broadway’s leading and most bankable playwright, and his success continued through the 1970s.  Perhaps in reaction to critical response that his plays were funny but lightweight, in the 1980s Simon turned to his own life experiences to create comedies that had some depth and addressed serious issues.  The trilogy Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound focused on his early family life, his time in the military, and his early writing career respectively.  Lost in Yonkers, about two teenagers forced to live with their stern grandmother while their father works as a traveling salesman, definitively gained Simon the respect he sought, winning not only the Tony Award for Best Play but also the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  Nevertheless, Simon will be remembered for his comedy. There are few if any writers who have made more people laugh.

Barefoot in the Park opened on October 23, 1963, and ran for 1,530 performances, Simon’s longest running show.  It tells the story of very-much-in-love but kind-of-ill-suited newlyweds Corie and Paul. Living on the top floor of a several-story walk-up, the pair discover that relationships can be hard, especially when the bride is a devil-may-care, free spirit and the groom is a buttoned-down worrywart.  Their conflict comes to a head at a dinner where Corie tries to fix her mother up with an eccentric neighbor, Mr. Velasco.  The original cast included Elizabeth Ashley as Corrie, Robert Redford as Paul, Mildred Natwick as Corie’s mother, and Kurt Kasznar as Mr. Velasco; the direction was by Mike Nichols.  A successful film version was released in 1967, starring Redford and Jane Fonda.  A TV sit-com version had a short run in 1970, and a Broadway revival in 2006, starring Amanda Peet, Patrick Wilson, Jill Clayburgh, and Tony Roberts, ran only 109 performances.

Because Barefoot in the Park is a full-length play with only six characters, at least a few of the actors are going to get a lot of stage time. Fortunately, director Opal Virtue has assembled a very capable cast, all of whom are very comfortable on stage.  The two lead roles – newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter – are played by Kayla Blue and Dakota McDaniels.  Ms. Blue is obviously having a lot of fun playing her character and brings tons of energy and just the right amount of friskiness to the role.  Mr. McDaniels plays off of her well and the two are much fun to watch.  They are joined by Judy Stroh who is a hoot as Corie’s mother, Ethel, and Rich Tinaglia, who plays upstairs neighbor Victor Velasco with humor and charm. Jared Cantrell portrays Harry the Telepone Man.  He only has a couple of scenes, but they are pivotal, and he does them well.  Players’ stalwart Jay Hartzler has a very brief but hilarious scene as the Delivery Man.

Opal Virtue, in addition to directing this production, is doing the costume design.  Chris Terven and Bruce Parrish have collaborated to design and build the set.  Terven is also producer with assistance from Christina DeanDarlene Lloyd is assistant director.  Emily Ohmart is sound designer and Brian Aitken is doing the lighting design.  Sherry Bradshaw and Carol Plotkin are doing properties.  Jay Hartzler is stage manager with assistance from Gabbi Flanagan-Burr. Samuel James Willis is the house manager.

The Players website indicates that the play is rated PG.  It’s really fairly tame by today’s standards, but there is some very infrequent profanity and some playful language and activity typical of healthy newlyweds.

The pay-what-you-can Preview performance is September 5 with regular performances September 6-8 and September 13-15.  Please note that Barefoot in the Park runs only two weekends and there is no Thursday performance the second weekend.

By Bob McLaughlin and John Lieder