Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park is one of those plays that annually gets produced probably more than it should. The play was considered contemporary in 1963, when Barefoot was considered a sophisticated Broadway hit about the perils of living in New York City. In 1967, Barefoot was turned into a film. Having lived in New York City for many years, I can confidently say that if you were not alive in the 1960’s and living in New York, the play’s script is hopelessly out of date and irrelevant. Add to this antiquated-ness that Barefoot is a Neil Simon play. I recognize Neil Simon’s contributions to the theater, but I’ve never been a fan of his works, which seems to always string together one straight laced character with one eccentric character. The only thing that could potentially be engaging about this play is the script’s witty and racquetball-like dialogue.
While it might sound like I’m about to lambast Theater Factory’s production of Barefoot, I’m not. I saw the play on opening night and it was one of those nights where you go to the theater begging to be transported somewhere. I was. To New York City. Maybe not my version of New York City, but a New York City I recognized, full of young love, high rents, and brutal apartment walk ups. You call these things the New York City universals.
The set design by Kaleb Yandrick is bare bones but sufficiently communicates the tone of the couple’s new and barren apartment. I will say that I was left wondering throughout the play what the staging would like if a company ever tried to do a modern version of Barefoot. The play’s staging should be commended for doing a good job of making use of all spots throughout the stage.
The real gift to this play, though, is Natalie Spanner, who in the role of Corie Bratter executes the giddiness and humor in a wife who is deeply in love despite fears that she she’s found a lousy apartment. Jeremy Kuharick as Corie Bratter’s husband Paul plays the role a bit too comically and rather than acting as the straight-laced young lawyer husband to offset Corie’s humor, too much slapstick is brought to the role and risks potentially spoiling the whole tone of the play. When the play lapses into discussing divorce after some ouzo imbibing in the second act, Spanner does a noteworthy job of dancing between both drama and hilarity.
Special note should be made of veteran stage actress Linda Stayer as Corie’s mother and Dennis Kerr as the Bratter’s neighbor Victor Velasco. Both actors work in the cadence and tone the play intends. Stephen Toth appears briefly as a repairman during the play’s opening, and the briefness of his appearance was a misstep because Toth lit up the stage and I, for one, would enjoy seeing him appear in a larger role.
The stage at the Theater Factory is lovely and large, the lighting in the play by Christopher Robin was extremely competent, the staging captured the atmosphere of the play, and the acting if not entirely capable of carrying across the tone of the play was engaging.