Entertaining and Witty: BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at The Drama League

by Jessica Graae

Shawn Kline and Natalie Gaspari in Wilmington Drama League's production of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK. (Photo credit: Chris Turner)

Wayne Meadows directs Neil Simon’s delightful BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at the Wilmington Drama League. Masterfully, Simon draws us into the lives of Corie and Paul Bratter, two newlyweds who have rented a midtown Manhattan apartment sight unseen. Their fifth-floor walk-up (“if you don’t count the stoop as a flight”) is tiny, with a busted-out skylight and a closet doubling as a bedroom.

Shawn Kline plays Paul, an eager young lawyer who has already begun to order his wife around. Kline captures the essence of Paul’s sarcastic, yet high-maintenance personality.

Natalie Gaspari does an excellent job with the demanding role of Corie Bratter. Corie is driven by her desire to create a beautiful home in a dumpy, freezing apartment and is constantly looking for her husband’s and overbearing mother’s approval. Before either of them can comment on the apartment she always blurts out, “You don’t like it!” Simon cleverly outlines Corie’s subtext with just a few choice words and actions.

In the first scene, she has a princess phone installed. She is so concerned with the phone that she hasn’t even noticed the broken skylight that is letting in freezing cold air. Corie is the consummate liar and often succeeds in getting everyone to play in her world of denial. She even convinces Paul to fib about the cost of the apartment to her mother. Through her web of lies, Corie also manages to introduce her mother to a rather unsuitable partner.

The play is packed with hilarious one-liners. The neighbor, Victor Velasco (her mother’s suitor), played ably by Jack Jordan, is a nutty Hungarian “gourmet” who must climb through the couples’ bedroom window to get to his apartment, as he’s several months behind on his rent. With his thick, silly accent he compliments Corie on her appearance. Baffled, she asks what language he is speaking. “Ravishing? That’s English.”

As Ethel, Corie’s mother, Catherine Ireland is the epitome of the tiresome mother-in-law who is eager to pour on the guilt and call attention to herself whenever possible. Ethel talks about getting a job and when Corie asks her what she’d like to do, she chimes in, “I’d like to be a grandmother.” Whiny and dramatic, Ethel is constantly popping little pink pills to soothe her stomach pain.

Mark Ladd is stellar in his performance as the telephone repairman- wiped out by the long climb up the stairs to the Bratter’s apartment- and just a little too involved in his customers’ lives.

Simon waits until the third act to ignite the tension in the play. The witty repartee becomes vicious barbs. We don’t even realize how quickly the relationship between Corie and Paul has soured, because Simon makes us laugh as they tear each other apart emotionally. “Why weren’t you this funny when we were happy?” complains Corie. The constant and sudden shifts in power are brilliantly timed and the two actors make the most of the discord.

Still, with their differences, Corie and Paul realize at the end they can’t live without each other: Paul tries to be more spontaneous and Corie, more caring.

By Neil Simon
Directed by Wayne Meadows
October 28, 2011-November 12, 2011
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Boulevard
Wilmington, Delaware 19802
(302) 764-3396

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