Vol. LXV, No. 28
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
(Photo by Jeff Reeder)
THE HONEYMOON IS OVER: Newlyweds Corie (Rachel Wenitsky) and Paul (David Bevis) battle it out in their new apartment in Princeton Summer Theaters production of Neil Simons 1963 comedy Barefoot in the Park, playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through July 17.
Declining to pick a favorite among his dozens of hit plays over the past half century, Neil Simon nonetheless readily admitted, in his 1996 memoir, that doing Barefoot in the Park was about as much fun as a playwright like me could have. Watching the polished, spirited revival at Princeton Summer Theater, forty-eight years after Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley with Mike Nichols directing opened the original on Broadway, is still a lot of fun for audiences, with sympathetic characters, classic comedic situations, and a slew of vintage Simon one-liners.
Barefoot in the Park, Mr. Simons first smash hit, ran for four years, and became a successful movie in 1967, with Mr. Redford and Jane Fonda playing the troubled newlywed protagonists. Its a play about the challenges of married life after the bliss of the honeymoon has worn off. Its about two people finding out, in setting up their New York City apartment together, that they are very different, and then figuring out what to do about the inevitable clashes in thinking and behavior that ensue.
Paul (David Bevis) is a 26-year-old lawyer, preparing to take on his first case. He is conservative, organized, controlled, and controlling. Hes the watcher, while his free-spirited young bride Corie (Rachel Wenitsky) is the doer spontaneous, emotional, and worried that shes married a stuffed shirt, whos not even willing to walk barefoot in Central Park.
Do you know what you are? Corie asks Paul. Youre a watcher. There are Watchers in this world and there are Do-ers. And the Watchers sit around watching the Do-ers do. Well, tonight you watched and I did.
I have always tried to put up stumbling blocks for my characters, Mr. Simon explained, something theyre not prepared for, something that will interfere with their plans: obstacles, hurdles, conflicts that not only make their lives more difficult, but which afford me the opportunity to put them in a humorous situation. The problems no furniture or phone or water in the apartment yet, a hole in the skylight, five long flights of stairs, no heat, no bathtub, an eccentric, intrusive neighbor, the arrival of Cories lonely, judgmental mother are certainly of comedic rather than tragic proportions, but, along with the conflicting natures of Corie and Paul, these problems more than suffice as a formidable test of love and marriage.
Under the direction of Lovell Holder, third-year graduate student in the Brown University/ Trinity Repertory Company MFA Acting program and a 2009 Princeton University graduate, this Princeton Summer Theater ensemble succeeds in capturing the comedy the rapid-fire rhythms in the hilarious dialogue and the human situations and bringing to life the sympathetic, three-dimensional characters.
Ms. Wenitsky and Mr. Bevis are particularly strong, focused, and likable as the young marrieds, with Adam Zivkovic delivering a tour de force performance as the charming, heavily accented bohemian neighbor Victor Velasco, swooping in with red beret, plaid jacket, and ascot to liven up the proceedings and, both literally and figuratively, sweep Cories uptight New Jersey mother off her feet.
Katherine Grant-Suttie as the mother provides some humorous moments, but does at times undermine the integrity and credibility of her character by overplaying her reactions or slipping out of character to smile at her own behavior.
Christopher Beard, though on stage for only a few minutes during the two-hour show, is memorable entertaining, funny, amiable as the outspoken, philosophical telephone repairman. (Yeah, its always nice to see two young kids getting started. With all the trouble today, you see a couple of newlyweds, you figure theres still hope for the world.) Alex Peters, in a silent walk-on role, completes the cast as the amusing delivery man.
Jeff Van Velsors unit set, effectively lit by Chris Gorzelnik, depicts realistically the main room of Corie and Pauls fifth floor apartment, with doors off to bedroom, stairs, bathroom, and a large skylight upstage above. The design, functionally and aesthetically on target, establishes several of the obstacles the protagonists will face and helps to define the world of this play.
Mr. Holder, despite the need to rein in occasional mugging and exaggerated reactions, has directed with care and intelligence. The pace moves swiftly, the characterizations are strong and engaging, and the comic timing is on target in dialogue and action. By bringing on the actors out of character at the start of the play to introduce themselves and by staging offstage characters looking in through the skylight as observers of the action throughout the play, Mr. Holder achieves a sort of Brechtian distancing effect, reminding us that we, along with the actors, are watching, not real life, but a play. These effects, accompanied by music at the ends of scenes, do provoke thought, though, at times, at the expense of realism and audience identification with the characters and their plights.
The world of Corie and Paul in 1963 as they work out their newlywed issues seems long ago and far away. The institution and meaning of marriage certainly still exist, but in New York, and elsewhere, they have changed. The civil rights movement and the Vietnam War had barely reached Americas consciousness by the early 60s. Before the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, before the sexual revolution of the 60s, the womens movement of the 60s and 70s, the gay rights movement, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the rise of global terrorism, we surely were more naïve, and life seemed simpler.
Barefoot in the Park in the innocence of the main characters and the provinciality of their concerns, in a certain glib superficiality here in the subject matter, and the nature of the quip-filled, sit-com style dialogue reflects that earlier era, but for sheer romantic comedy, and a pleasant summer evening, PSTs production of this Neil Simon classic is hard to beat.
Barefoot in the Park will run one more weekend, July 14-17, with evening performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and matinee performances at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, in the Hamilton Murray Theater. Buy tickets online at www.SmartTix.com, or call (877) 238-5596, or visit www.PST2011.org.
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