Stage Left’s Inaugural BAREFOOT IN THE PARK Does Simon Proud

by Jack Shaw

I attended the preview of Stage Left Productions in conjunction with Sketch Club Players, Inc. of Neil Simon’s BAREFOOT IN THE PARK and left feeling proud. Why proud? As someone who’s spent some time on stage, I was proud because the actors did what actors are supposed to do besides act. Actors have to go on; they have to make what they have “work” when sometimes there is no logic to it. That’s the magic of theater. And, work well it did at this performance. The magic filled the air.

Laurie Halloran as Corie Bratter and Matt Reher as Paul Bratter in Stage Left Productions' BAREFOOT IN THE PARK.

What’s so special here? The stage set was literally built yesterday after cast and crew took down the JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR set. You can imagine two very different sets. These actors barely stepped foot on stage and made it seem they lived there. That may have been a tribute to the play’s director, Ed Santiago, whose direction was unseen, but obviously at the heart of it all. It was a nice set, too—perfect for the cramped apartment it was supposed to be. I’ve never seen a smaller kitchen except in my little girl’s bedroom when she plays homemaker.

When you are on stage, nothing is ever perfect. There are tripping hazards, a door may come open after it’s been shut, and props may be in the wrong place or missing. It is the actor who has to make Murphy’s Law look as if it happened to them in real life and react as if it were all on purpose. Some nights have fewer mishaps than others, but every night is different. Now, I’m not talking dropped lines or missed entrances, although I think if this cast had been confronted with those “oops” (and maybe they were) no one would have noticed—so smooth were the pick-ups.

Ironically, I have been bemoaning the fact that a theater had to close and a show nearly lost a venue in my blog. Here is a similar situation and the actors made a dated play still as much fun as it was when Mr. Simon first penned it. The play was recently revived on Broadway and the reviews, despite a stellar cast (although maybe miscast in their roles) fell short. Critics pointed out the datedness of the play, the lines that were funny in the early sixties, reflecting that generation’s wit.

Here, I found I didn’t care the play wasn’t set in the ‘60s. The costumes didn’t reflect it, although the rent, the phone, coffeemaker and dialogue did. Over the years we have become so comfortable Neil Simon’s one-liners that we saw the humor in the context they were written. Granted, there were many people in the audience who could relate to the ‘60s, including this writer (barely), and we reveled in our mirth thanks to the actors who stayed true to the earlier moment in time. There was no time tripping into the late 20th or early 21st century with modern gestures or slips of the twang. I have to warn sensitive theatergoers that there are references that are not politically correct in today’s world; in the ‘60s people may have been beginning to notice, but the playwright wrote it then, not now.

Matt Reher as Paul Bratter and Laurie Halloran as his wife, Corey Bratter had terrific chemistry. Matt showed some dynamite comedic timing. Laurie was kooky in a delightful way and played the part as genuinely as possible. I really liked her as Corey. Although she appeared too sexy and blushingly hot at times, but she couldn’t help it, could she? I mean that in the nicest way. Could be costumes… But it would make those moments when she played to Matt/Paul’s male nature believably. Okay, the red dress was maybe a bit much in the second act, but it was a nice dress. A nitpick: a little more inebriated Corey and Velasco may have played funnier in the scene when they come back from the restaurant; ten ouzos are pretty potent and they sobered up very quickly. Paul, in contrast, comes home falling down drunk, but sobers a little when faced with divorce, which seemed appropriate given the circumstance.

Pat DeFusco played Victor Velasco with comic restraint and it worked. By holding back, he was more intriguing and funny as he took himself so seriously. I’ve seen the role played bigger, but I liked Pat’s portrayal better. Elaine Fydrych as Ethel Banks, Corey’s mother, was such a “good sport,” I felt her pain. Her best stuff came in the second act, when she comes back in wearing Victor’s robe and slippers and tries to tell her daughter where she spent the night. The telephone man and delivery man did a fine job as well. The delivery man enters and leaves without uttering a word, conveying so much information, it was hilarious. The telephone man who’s on stage just twice made the most of his character as a guy caught in the middle who points out “phones break down all the time, but they get fixed, too.”

Maybe that’s the way to end here. You all know the cliché, “If it ain’t broke… Neil Simon wrote a great play 50 or so years ago. This show didn’t try to fix it. With good reason, and with great actors, it didn’t need fixing. Such is the magic of theater.

Stage Left’s Production of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK is only at the Sketch Club Players Theater in Woodbury, NJ until the 24th. Kick back and have a nice, comfortable laugh. Good theater doesn’t always have to be deep, just life honestly portrayed.

by Neil Simon
Directed by Ed Santiago
Oct 20-24, 2010
Stage Left Productions
at Sketch Club Players Theater
433 Glover Street
Woodbury, NJ 08096

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