Barefoot in the Park, a CurtainUp review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Review
Barefoot In the Park

The furniture will be here. In the meantime I can light the stove and you can sit over the fire with your law books and a shawl like Abraham Lincoln. ---Corie Is that supposed to be funny?--- Paul

Amanda Peet & Patrick Wilson
Amanda Peet & Patrick Wilson
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
There was a time not too long ago when going to a Neil Simon comedy was a virtual guarantee of almost constant laughter. Times they are a changing!

If Barefoot in the Park encouraged waves of laughter when it first opened on Broadway in 1963, the current revival offers little to either revive or support that response. To be sure, it was the first mega hit for the playwright who would go on for decades to write hits -- for the most part, joke-propelled situation comedies. Of course, there was a serious side to Simon that surfaced and was duly lauded in such plays as Lost in Yonkers and Chapter Two. You could say that the prolific playwright (31 plays on Broadway, 3 Off-Broadway) inherited the mantlelof Clyde Fitch (an extremely popular late 19th century/early 20th century playwright notable for writing 62 plays, 36 of which were original, the rest adaptations and dramatizations of novels, and all notably superficial).

Even for those of us of a certain age who remember light romantic comedy before television completely usurped this brand of set-up and punch-line writing, Barefoot seems a risky venture. Perhaps the producers thought there might be a Simon renaissance given the current success of The Odd Couple. That the edgy New Group's artistic director Scott Elliott would be attracted to this bit of foolish, improbable and grievously dated fluff is in itself curious. It would have probably been a more amusing adventure for all concerned if he had impressed his well-earned directorial style on an opus by Fitch.

Barefoot revolves around a young couple's marital adjustments in their first apartment, a five-floor walk-up, six if you include the front stoop. Complete with the obligatory mother-in-law and horny neighbor, the jokes and incredulous situations are such an intrinsic part of the play that one tends to forget the lack of plot while taking in Simon's insights into nothing much in particular. Director Elliott has gone to great lengths to sustain whatever poses as funny in the script. The actors speak loudly when not actually shouting at each other. The garret, being quite a climb, affords innumerable possibilities for actors to create varied entrances as a result of their exhaustion and frustration.

Audiences are generally quick to respond to old-time vaudeville shtick and double-takes in outrageous situations. But these entrances into the Bratter's apartment grow tedious very quickly. It's all downhill (no pun intended) after the tortured arrival of an obese telephone repairman (Adam Sietz), followed by an asthmatic Lord and Taylor delivery man (Sullivan Walker). Fortunately Amanda Peet, who distinguished herself last season Off-Broadway in Neil LaBute's This Is How It Goes (this publication's review) and in the current film Syriana, doesn?t have to prove much beyond being perky and quirky in this her Broadway debut. Unfortunately, what she is assigned to prove in this case is that she can bob and bounce around the stage like a bunny rabbit and suggest there is something seriously skewed in her character, as the volatile, high-strung newly wed Corie Bratter. The play's conflict, to put it kindly, hinges on the hasty decisions of this seriously unnerved and unnerving young woman. She has rented an apartment that her unbelievably compliant husband of just six days has not yet seen. Corie doesn' t seem to be bothered that there isn't a tub for her husband who prefers a bath instead of a shower; that the hole in the skylight is making the apartment insufferably cold -- neither does the fact that a walk-in closet sized dressing room might not be suitable as a bedroom. Forty years ago, did we really never consider whether Corie's flaky, irrational behavior and blatant immaturity was actually a serious indicator of mental fragility?

The versatile Patrick Wilson, whose musical theater credits (Oklahoma, The Full Monty), asserts his talents, without singing, most formidably with a comical physicality and a genial disposition that happily does not suggest any diagnosable neurosis. The mother-in-law, in this instance, becomes the only character one feels has any sense of reality. Mrs. Banks, is played by the delightful Jill Clayburgh, a recent survivor of this season.'s of A Naked Girl on the Appian Way (this publication's review), a possibly even more woeful comedy, if that's possible. Clayburgh has some amusing and real moments, especially during her morning-after-the-night-before scene in which she has to explain her indiscretion to her daughter. However, she too gets our goat with her offensive chain smoking.

Tony Roberts, a veteran of the original company (he replaced Robert Reed, who replaced Robert Redford), dives with aplomb into the more or less obnoxious role of Victor Velasco the upstairs lecher.

One has to commend set designer Derek McLane for coming up with a comically ghastly set notable for the way it intimates Corie's lack of taste. The green-blue striped wall-paper, the gold valance and drapes and the turquoise upholstered furniture, undoubtedly purchased without Paul's input, suggests a form of decorative dementia. After a few minutes looking at this one begins to long for the cold drab unfurnished room we see in the first scene when it's still full of possibilities.

Throwing around a full-length blonde mink coat and looking stunning in a balsam green suit, Clayburgh comes off the winner in the fashion department thanks to costumer Isaac Mizrahi. The only mistake the telephone repair man made when he came back for a second visit was not to call 911.

This is the second Simon comedy to be revived this season. Whether it holds up depends upon your enthusiasm for Simon's comedies and how his one-liners hit you these days.

The original production (1963) was directed by Mike Nichols, starring Robert Redford, Elizabeth Ashley, Mildred Natwick, and Kurt Kasznar. It was nominated for four Tony Awards and won a Tony for Best Direction of a Play for Nichols. It was filmed in 1967 with Jane Fonda and Redford.

A note from the editor: I saw this revival on the same night as Simon and wish I could add a point counterpoint postscript. Though the woman sitting in front of me hardly stopped laughing, I must confess that, except for a few chuckles in the second act, I too found that this comedy hasn't aged particularly well. With The Odd Couple also playing on Broadway, it was interesting to see how much Wilson's uptight Paul Bratter, who so fastidiously presses his ties between the pages of a big book, is clearly Felix Unger in embryo. It was even more interesting to see Barefoot just a few days after another revival of a much less familiar domestic comedy, Rose Franken's Soldier's Wife. Both plays open with a young wife decorating a Manhattan apartment. However, the Franken play is not joke but character driven and, without a single movie or Broadway star, manages to still be poignant. That's all I can say, until my review is posted after tomorrow night's official opening when the review link will be activated. (The review link: Soldier's Wife. --- Elyse Sommer, 2/22/06.
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Barefoot in the Park
Playwright: Neil Simon
Directed by Scott Elliott
Cast: Amanda Peet (Corie Bratter), Patrick Wilson (Paul Bratter), Jill Clayburgh (Corie's mother, Mrs. Banks), Tony Roberts (Victor Velasco), Adam Sietz (telephone repairman) and Sullivan Walker (deliveryman).
Set Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Isaac Mizrahi;
Lighting Design: Jason Lyons;
Sound Design: Ken Travis
Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes with intermission
Presented by Robyn Goodman, Roy Gabay, Walt Grossman, Geoff Rich, Danzansky Partners, Ergo Entertainment and Ruth Hendel, in association with Paramount the Cort Theater, 138 West 48th Street (212) 239-6200.
From 1/24/06; opening 2/16/05.
Tues through Sat @ 8:00PM, Wed & Sat @ 2:00PM, & Sun @ 3:00PM.
Tickets: $26.25 to 96.25

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer
Closing 5/21/06 after 108 performances and 27 previews.
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