'Barefoot in the Park' brings one of Neil Simon's best from The Studio Players
"Barefoot in the Park" is the "Hell Freezes Over" tour for The Studio Players.
Artistic Director Scott Lilly remembers, somewhat sheepishly, when he and Kevin Moriarty founded The Studio Players' predecessor, Let's Put On a Show Productions: "It was one of the things we agreed on. We were not going to do Neil Simon. We were going to do more alternative stuff. "
He's been choking on those words ever since, as the theater changed names, developed a reputation for smart comedies as well as drama and began getting blunt criticisms: "You never do Neil Simon."
"So we're doing Neil Simon," said a chastened Lilly. "And the people are buying tickets!"
One of Neil Simon's best in 'Barefoot in the Park.'
He did choose what's considered one of Simon's best in "Barefoot in the Park." (For details on performance dates, see the information box.) Even with Princess phones and dated 1960s prices, it's a full-roast blend of dry wit and physical laughs. Gregg Birr, for example, never utters an audible word, but is hilarious as the Lord & Taylor deliveryman who arrives at the Bratter apartment screamingly out of breath after six flights of stairs.
It's only five flights, Corie Bratter (Rose DeLeon) would tell you. She doesn't count the stoop, with its cascade of steps to the street. Corie is oblivious about a lot of things that consume her new husband, buttoned-down attorney Paul Bratter (John Strealy).
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The hole in the skylight. The lifeless radiator. Their neighbor, Victor Valasco (David Whalley), who clambers through their bedroom window to make his way along the ledge to his apartment. The landlord has locked him out for nonpayment.
There's Corie's mother, a widowed New Jersey matron, hews more toward Paul's outlook, and who, to her abject horror, is being paired with the flamboyant, freeloading Victor.
Within that chaos is the crux of the story: learning to live with someone who may at times be your polar opposite.
It's a theme that threads through a number of Simon comedies. "Barefoot in the Park" is one of his earliest examples and is fresh with lines like those from Corie's totally winded mother (Karen Ezrine) arriving on the sixth, er, fifth, floor: "If I had known people on the third floor, I'd have gone to visit them."
All those laughs require timing, said Paula Keenan, its director. This is her fourth Neil Simon comedy, and she knows and respects his works: "He's the dean of curtain comedy.
"There's a certain rhythm to Simon that we have to honor," she said. "It's not Shakespeare, but there's definitely a rhythm." She said she's delighted to work with a cast that can master it.
"When I cast this thing, I was so darn lucky. I got the best of the best."
It's a week for remember when
Two more theater offerings this weekend take us back in time:
"Singin' Broadway": 7:30 p.m. March 17-19 and 2:30 p.m. March 20. Marco Presbyterian Church, Fellowship Hall, 875 Elkcam Circle, Marco Island. Island Theater Company production, with new songs from Broadway musicals such as "Guys and Dolls," "Frozen," "Cabaret," "Jersey Boys," "Hamilton" and more. islandtheater.com Information at 239-394-0080
"Erma Bombeck: At Wit's End": 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays March 18-27 at Center for Performing Arts, 10150 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs. As humorist Bombeck (Louise K. Cornetta) takes us through her journey from Centerville, Ohio, homemaker to national syndicated columnist, to feminist crusader — with the ability to laugh — and more. $20-$30. artcenterbonita.org or 239-495-8989
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.
IF YOU GO
What: The Studio Players' production of the Neil Simon classic "Barefoot in the Park" is about a young couple adjusting to each other's philosophies, her nearby mother and the guy who gets into his apartment through their window.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays (except for April 7) and 3 p.m. Sundays March 18-April 10
Where: Joan Jenks Auditorium, Golden Gate Community Center, 4701 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples
Tickets: $30, $15 students
To buy: thestudioplayers.org or 239-398-9192