By Ken Stern 

'Barefoot in the Park' at Whidbey Playhouse

 

February 8, 2023



The timing is perfect to go see "Barefoot in the Park," playing for two more weekends at Whidbey Playhouse after opening Feb. 3. It is set in a New York City brownstone in February 1963. It is February here and even more so in the apartment there, which has a hole in the skylight, allowing snow in

Don't worry. Neil Simon's script is taken to heart in this well acted and directed production. You will keep warm from laughter. The cast uniformly hits all their cues and play well with each other. The action swirls around Corrie (Karina Andrew), married for all of six days in the opening scene.

Corrie is everything a male imagined an early 1960s pre-feminist era bride to be: young, innocent, energetic and overly romantic. Andrew exudes all that and more, confident in her love and loving making love. Her husband Paul (Connor Magnoli, equally strong in his portrayal), however, is a literally buttoned-down newly minted lawyer, who, while loving Corrie, is more comfortable with being an early 1960s lawyer. Magnoli defines straight-laced.

The only backstory is the newlyweds are newly in their top floor apartment after their six night honeymoon at the Park Plaza Hotel. The two are an odd pair, but that is Simon experimenting with his odd couple formula.

Don't worry about the plot, which is improbable, a mere device for comedy sketches

No sooner does Paul enters his new living space, out of breath – a running gag throughout – then he sees the potential for his mother in law being unwilling to visit. The apartment, and more so, the building, is also a character, experienced and referenced by each person trudging up its five floors, plus stoop. The barebones apartment could hardly be smaller and the bathroom and bedroom are criticized plenty.

But the newly installed princess model telephone rings. Mom is on the line, in the neighborhood and soon to huff and puff her way up the stairs.

Mom (Shealyn Christie) is widowed, worried about her only daughter and lives to be helpful. Daughter Corrie immediately sees the match meeting potential in attic dwelling Victor (Steve DeHaven, with an enthusiastic, and European accent, and bold worldly experience). Here is odd couple number two, but a generation older and thus mature.

Andrew has a wide range, going from full-throated goofy laughter to heart-wrenching sobbing. She is, metaphorically, the lead sax player. Cast members, in turn, riff with and off her, each getting chances to shine with laugh lines. They do.

Corrie confidently, cluelessly and ineptly as a bartender, hosts a foursome dinner party date with her mom and Victor. The evening ends with Victor driving Ethel home in her car and Paul blowing up at Corrie. Divorce is the argument clinching term, with screaming, door slamming, Paul ending up on the couch and Corrie sobbing uncontrollably in the bedroom.

Paul is accused of not understanding going barefoot in Washington Park. That line will come up again.

Will the married couple stay married? Will Ethel surprise her daughter, showing depth and nuance?

Credit Director David Frazer and his assistant, Ben Honeycutt, for a tight, crisp, smartly paced production. The simple, open set could be 1960s New York.

Mike Nichols won a Tony Awards for directing the Broadway production. The 1967 movie starred Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.

Go to whidbeyplayhose.com for show dates, times and ticket reservations or call 360-679-2237.

 

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