Granite Theatre triumphs with a nice, slice of life, romantic-comedy (at times, however, on the verge of becoming a romantic tragedy) with Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park. The two-act, single location play opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre in October, 1963, and closed in June, 1967, after 1,530 performances and is reported as being Simon’s longest running hit. The original cast version of the play, starring Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley, was nominated for three 1964 Tony Awards, and Mike Nichols won the award for Best Director (Dramatic). A successful film version starring Redford and Jane Fonda followed as well as a short lived TV adaptation.
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With this rich history, it certainly is a challenge for any theater to put their own unique stamp on a production, but, in my opinion Granite, has done very well here, with special kudos to first time Director Judy George and a talented team of actors, with a heart-warming and upbeat take by Chelsea Mitchell as Corie Bratter, a young woman in her first week of married life in a small apartment in the top floor of a brownstone in New York City. Corie has apparently has picked out the small and “quirky” apartment on her own, seemingly without the input or opinions of her , at times, tense and aloof lawyer husband Paul , sturdily played by John Cillino.
When we first meet the couple , as they are settling in to their new pad (Paul complains that the rent is about $125, which by 1960s prices must have seemed to be quite a bit… ah, inflation!)
Corie is optimistic about their future together and is the “glass if half full” type , while Paul, taking a more grounded, but less fun, “but honey, they glass if actually half empty” approach, takes a bit of pride in pointing out the various flaws in the apartment, such as a hole in the skylight, their leaky closet, and the lack of a bathtub, as he prefers showers.
It becomes quickly obvious – and comedic – that, indeed “the honeymoon is over” and what may seem to be a small issue to one member of the couple because a big deal to the other. The humanity of it all, and the growing pains from “sexy and single” to “stable and committed” is what the couple goes through and the story is effectively told as such. The apartment itself becomes a bit of a character, as being “Corie’s choice” , and poor Paul never seems fully comfortable or attached to it.
When Paul runs into a collection of their neighbors, they all seem a bit too unusual for his personal tastes, but eventually they find themselves befriended (somewhat by force) by an unusually accented and self-welcoming Mr. Velasco (played with a like-able charm by Geoff Blanchette) Corie leans to Mr. Velasco’s company more than Paul, and at first, the elder Mr. Velasco seems a little interested in Corie for protective Paul’s tastes.
Corie, has the perfect solution before that becomes a problem, by attempting to set up her very own (now single) mother (in a nice Granite debut by Mari Enrique) with Mr. Velasco on an unexpected double date of sorts, much to Paul’s chagrin. When Mr. Velasco and Corie’s mom hit it off (to some extent) and find themselves in an adventure with some twists and turns, the stress of all of this is too much for Paul and Corie’s own relationship. The once happy twosome find themselves with a growing distance from each other, eventually their disagreements become pointed arguments, and the black cloud of a quick divorce looms its ugly head.
The real story and beauty of this play is not in the actual plot points, actions or even dialogue but more so in the simple humanities that the characters , especially Corie, are going through. She no longer has a father figure, and seeks a strong male figure in both her new husband (who is a bit too caught up in “paying the bills” to realize his bride’s complications) and later in Mr. Velasco. Corrie and her mother also have a complicated relationship, one that seems only now to be growing beyond the typical mother-daughter-as-little-girl role playing. The two proceed with discussing intimate details very cautiously with each other.
Corie is growing up and trying to make her way in the world and is seeking support, perhaps even approval, from those around her. Oddly, when this “pat on the back” does not come, in full fruition at least, from either her chosen spouse or her mother, she finds some of that very approval from a stranger. There is even a moment when Paul and his mother-in-law confide that they are more alike to each other than Corie is to both of them, re-enforcing the odd triangle that they are in. With Mr. Velasco’s entrance of their trio to a quartet, the characters and performance of Granite Theatre’s take on Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park is a certain and sublime delight for most theater-goers. Barefoot in the Park will run through July 21 – tickets can be purchased here.