Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Vintage “Barefoot In The Park” On Life Support

Mismatched couple Corie and Paul Bratter (Kerry Bishé and Chris Lowell) couldn’t be more polar opposite if they tried. Recently back from their five day honeymoon at the Plaza they don’t seem to have a clue about each other’s likes and dislikes. 

'Love is blind. Marraige is an eye opener'. 
Chris Lowell and Kerry Bishe
Paul is a budding attorney, at 26 he dresses like he’s 56, and always wears a frown. He’s the more cautious of the two with an entirely different outlook on life than Corie. He buries himself in his law stuff and she busies herself just being happy and fixing up her empty apartment. One sees the glass half full, the other half empty.

Overly optimistic and bouncy Corie rents a five-story walkup flat, in an old brownstone, on the Upper East Side of New York. I’m guessing it’s near the Park because she likes to ‘walk barefoot in the park’ even when there’s snow on the ground. It’s an activity Paul finds rather distasteful and almost unthinkable.
Kerry Bishe and Chris Lowell
This tiny top floor flat barely puts out heat from a radiator that you have to stand on a ladder to adjust. It has no bathtub (no room for that stuff), the skylight has a hole in it and it’s Feb. It often gets below zero and it snows in N.Y. in Feb. Ya think?

The bedroom is big enough for an oversized single bed, so that when the couple turns, they do it in unison and… Paul neatly lays his ties out between the pages of a dictionary. The pipes in the closet /aka the bedroom leak making it difficult to hang their clothes. (Badda boom)
Kerry Bishe, Chris Lowell, Mia Dillon and Jere Burnes
The neighbors, it appears are this side of weird. Victor Velasco (Jere Burns), who lives in the attic apartment above them (he has to go through the Bratter’s to get to his), is a Hungarian gourmet and rascal all rolled into one. Corie finds him charming. She also thinks he would make a fine companion for her ‘home alone’ mother, Ethel (Mia Dillon) who has her own idiosyncrasies, lives in the burbs of New Jersey and would like nothing more than to be a grandmother.

“Barefoot in the Park” opened in 1963 and was one of his longest running hits, 1530 performances, making it, then, the tenth longest-running and non musical play in Broadway history. It closed in 1967. The movie starred Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.

Some vintage wines get better with age. Some say women do as well. Some say that of men. Some Broadway plays have lasting power and in retrospect, shed more light on a current situation than when it was written. Some fall off by the wayside or are just plain flat and when they are revived, barely make the cut.

Overall most of Simon’s early plays are stuck in the time zone in which he writes them. They’re simply dated. He writes/wrote funny situational plays, romantic comedies, autobiographical comedies and some musical comedies.

This current revival of at the Old Globe, on the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre through September 2nd falls more into the semi-autobiographical, kinda romantic column and is loosely based on Simons' experiences with one of his wives.

Director Jessica Stone who admires Simon, ‘and the way he constructs his jokes has resuscitated it while it still has a few belly laughs lef. The running joke is that every time Paul, Corie’s mother and or the telephone repair man (Jake Millgard) climb the stairs to the top floor apartment of their brownstone they come gasping for air as if they just ran the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon.  Ms. Stone gets some good leverage out of this giving the audience something real to chuckle at and Millgard nurses it perfectly.   

Every time Paul comes huffing and puffing disheveled with tie askew, we know he’s just made the climb as we see with Ethel when she comes to visit. We see it again when the phone man and delivery guy come back for a second time. Needless to say the laughs come, but they do get tired after a while.
Mia Dillon and Jere Burns
Their trek reminded me of my growing up years living on the top floor of our three -story -house. There were nine cement steps just to get to the landing to even open the back door. Each flight had seven steps to a landing, there were two landings to reach each floor and we were at the top. You do the math.

Lowell’s Paul, who never seems to get used to the hike up to his place, falls into the he's just right as the 'head in the books attorney' and makes the most of his situation until he's had it! In a final come to Jesus scene when the two newly weds are in divorce mode and  he’s well over his dinking limit. 

He's actually a good drunk carrying on well past the time for the liquor to have worn off, even finding it OK to walk barefoot in the park and climb up onto the sky light where he's joined by Corie where all's well that ends well.

Yes it got to the point that their incompatibility wore them down while Ethel and Victor were getting it on (or so they thought) in some wild eating orgy when she ended up in his kimono and slippers and he, disheveled and disoriented tried to explain their evening together.

Bishé’s Corie never seems to break a sweat coming up the stairs (actually we hardly see her out of the apartment), she’s always in anxious mode and never lets on that she feels the chill from the snow heaped in a pile on the floor of her walk up; the skylight has a hole in it.
Corie: “It is going to be cloudy tonight with a light snow.”
Telephone man:And just think, you’ll be the first one in the city to see it fall.
Jake Millgard, Kerry Bishe and Chris Lowell
Oblivious to it all except that Paul didn’t have time from his ‘busy schedule’ to pay attention, she worked too hard being happy, jolly and in everyone’s business to convince yours truly that she was a real person. In other words, who is she and what does she do while everyone is off working or was that a sixties thing?

Mia Dillon’s Ethel seems to have the most fun as Corie’s ditsy mother who comes a-calling at the most inopportune times. She has some of the best lines in the show but carefully lets Simon’s words work for her. (“When you were a little girl, you said you wanted to live on the moon…I thought you were kidding.”)
Mia Dillon and Kerry Bishe
Tobin Ost’s square cornered cutaway set, from my vantage point, looks at odds with the shape of the in the round theatre. It turned my sense of order and focus inside out and became a distraction.

Aside from having to walk up five flights of stairs everything in the small walk up is miniature and nothing looked comfortable.

David Israel Reynoso’s costumes are somewhat properly dated and Lindsay Jones music selections are period true. (“Moon river”, “Make Someone Happy”).

The Old Globe has been a safe haven for Simon over the years. In 1958 Craig Noel directed this very same show. Over the years, it's been mounted on several other smaller stages. 

 One of my recollections of Simon's work (and there were many) was a wonderful “Lost In Yonkers” in 2010 at The Globe.  

“Brighten Beach Memoirs” and Broadway Bound”, both autobiographical plays, have not lost their shine after so many years. Both depict real situations, funny and dated as they may be are classic. Dusting off "Barefoot In The Park" may give it a new look for the time being but its time to close the chapter on this one. 

The next time you are in New York in the winter try walking barefoot in the park… sober. 

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept 2nd
Organization: Old Globe Theatre
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 1363 Balboa Park Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Web: theoldglobe.org
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Jim Cox


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