Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
Following a successful revival on Broadway earlier this year, “Barefoot in the Park” now gets a winning stage treatment from the Rep. Robert Hupp, the theater's producing artistic director, helms the Neil Simon comedy. It's the director's first stab at legendary playwright's oeuvre, and he's managed to root out all the madcap humor that made the play such a runaway hit when it debuted in 1963.
Still firmly set in the 1960s of party lines and princess phones, mechanical ice-trays and martini shakers, “Barefoot” treads in young love and its pitfalls. Corie, played with effervescent assurance by Whitney Kirk, a Cabot native and former Miss Arkansas, is a throw-caution-to-the-wind kind of girl, who's newly married to Paul, a careful, buttoned-down lawyer, acted by soap and stage vet Christian Pedersen. The newlyweds live in a largely dysfunctional fifth story walk-up apartment that leaks snow from the skylight.
If Corie's put-together '60s chic — form-fitting sweaters, color-coordinated headbands and earrings and tapered plaid pants — doesn't instantly put a contemporary viewer to mind of a free-spirit, Kirk brings out her character's joie de vivre with a lot of activity. She stomps. She flails around the apartment. She jumps and wraps her legs around Paul. She streaks up a ladder, and dives, drunkenly, onto the couch. When she's not moving, she's talking, about doing things like ringing doorbells and yelling “Police!” and, yes, running barefoot in the park. Kirk is magnetic in her mania.
Pedersen's Paul comes a little more ready-made. Rangy, in skinny ties and with a part in his blonde hair so neat it seems cultivated from childhood, Pederson is every bit the cautious, by-the-book type. But in his stentorian reading of the character, the actor makes Paul someone who, in protecting the prudent course, is just as willing as Corie to get crazy.
Robert Lydiard, a longtime stage vet, delivers a memorably sly performance as Victor Velasco, the couple's eccentric upstairs neighbor, and Alanna Hammill Newton thrives in the role of Corie's needy mother. As the play progresses, the natural order separates the foursome, with Corie and Victor on one team and Paul and Corie's mother on another, more reluctant, one.
Jason Thompson, a longtime member of the Red Octopus troupe and the drummer in the Reds, turns up for a small, well-played comic role as a telephone repairman, and Steve Marshall, who wrote and produced “WKRP in Cincinnati” and “Revenge of the Nerds II” (!), does admirably in a bit part as a delivery man.
The entirety of the play happens in the apartment, and longtime set designer Mike Nichols does a marvelous job bringing to life the subtle deficiencies of the apartment (drip marks from the room's peach and avocado green walls sully the molding and the characters must shimmy their way through a narrow entry to their bedroom). The era, too, is presented with care. Mid-century modern coffee tables sit in front of kaleidoscope-patterned furniture, and Chinese lanterns cover the light fixtures.
If, ultimately, the pitfalls of love seem little more than bumps in the road, the play doesn't suffer for lack of conflict. This is one of those simple, essential comedies called classic for a reason.— Lindsey Millar
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