Playwright: Neil Simon
Company: Star Bar Theater Company
Venue: Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 East Colorado Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (includes one 20 minute intermission and one 10 minute intermission).
Date of Performance: Friday, June 12, 2015.
There’s little question that Neil Simon is one of the most successful American playwrights of the 20th century. In 1966, he had four (4) shows open simultaneously on Broadway: Sweet Charity, The Star Spangled Girl, The Odd Couple, and Barefoot in the Park. Few playwrights dream of such success; Simon achieved it early in his Broadway career.
Barefoot in the Park premiered on Broadway in 1963, making the script 52 years old this year. Star Bar Theater Company’s revival at the Cottonwood Center is a fresh production with fresh faces in a script that is now a 20th century New York period piece.
For those few who may be unfamiliar with Barefoot in the Park, it’s a romantic comedy with some drama baked in as newlyweds Corie (Kerry Brooke Steere) and Paul (Kevin Brown) move into their first apartment in New York City. As with most young couples, the apartment is hardly a dream home; it’s tiny, it’s an exhausting five floor climb (six counting the stoop), and it’s a building filled with eccentrics.
Mix in Ethel Banks (Dessa Baxman) Corie’s smothering mother, and Victor Velasco (Warren Epstein), their odd upstairs neighbor who has visions of grandeur with not nickel to his name, and you have a recipe for both comedy and conflict.
Simon’s script takes the newlyweds from bliss to bitchy in the blink of an eye. What started as unconditional love turns into heartbreak and breakup. Barefoot in the Park is a comedy, but one with a lesson about love. Relationships are hard work, even for those just starting out together.
Kerry Brooke Steere and Kevin Brown bring a natural chemistry to their roles; they are engaged to each other offstage. Their couple status helps them look like, sound like, and act like Simon’s fictitious couple. Brooke Steere is a bouncy, impulsive, and hopelessly infatuated Corie until she summons her angry demons and kicks Paul out of the apartment. Brown’s impeccably dressed but boring Paul is suitably shocked when Corie turns on him. Brown and Brooke Steere bring their characters to life, making them credible and lovable even when they melt down.
I should mention here that Brown ties his necktie onstage, without a mirror. He gets it right; it looks perfect. Given the few occasions anymore when any male actually needs to know how to tie a necktie, Brown’s onstage demonstration is impressive.
Dessa Baxman brings the nuances of Corie’s mother to the Star Bar stage; she has a way of criticizing Corie without saying a word. Her slight eye rolls and glances at Corie carry the full weight of maternal disapproval. In a bit of a role reversal, Baxman has to finesse her way through getting caught in a compromising situation. She awkwardly explains to her daughter why she is wearing Victor’s robe. Her explanation is plainly weak, but Baxman delivers it with a panicked sincerity.
Sarah Sheppard Shaver has dressed the cast in colorful costumes, from Paul’s "stuffed shirt" suit and tie to Victor’s kimono and hat. Elizabeth Kahn’s set design is functional and flexible; the apartment goes from stark and empty in act one to decorated and fully furnished in act two. Director Wes Whatley balances the comedy and the conflict gracefully, making Simon’s relationships as important as the laughs.
It is those relationships that the audience will remember here. Love requires work, and that has not changed in the slightest in the last 50 years.
Neil Simon fans can now bare their claws and pounce on me at will. In my view, some of his work has not held up very well to the test of time. What was funny in 1963 seems quaint in 2015. This is not a knee slapping, laugh out loud show. It is amusing. It will create some laughs and a lot of smiles, but few belly laughs. Compared to contemporary romantic comedies (Friends with Benefits, or Sex and the City, for example), Barefoot in the Park comes off as tame and quaint. A lot has changed since 1963, and Simon’s comedy has lost some of its edge.
Still, Barefoot in the Park is a Neil Simon classic, and fans of the playwright will be pleased with Star Bar’s production. It’s an engaging, charming, and altogether entertaining show done by a talented cast.
There is ample free street parking parking near the theater on the surrounding streets. There is also parking in the parking lot across the street.
This show is suitable for all ages. In fact, a four year old girl was seated in front of us on opening night.
The theater is on the second floor, but there is an elevator for the mobility impaired. Ask at the first floor box office for details.
PHOTO CREDITS: Star Bar Theatre Company
Tickets are $15
$6 for students (student tickets available at box office only; sorry, no reservations)
Sunday Special: Pay-what-you-can! (at door only).
Tickets reserved online will be waiting for you at the box office on the evening of the performance. Unfortunately we cannot guarantee seating for reservations made after 5PM on the day of the performance. Student tickets are $6 and are available at the box office only.
This show will close on June 28, 2015.
PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:
We had dinner before the show at the Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, 2 E. Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs. Established in 1993, it’s the oldest brewpub in the Springs. At the corner of Pikes Peak and Cascade, you can’t get a more central location. They have outdoor seating on the sidewalk for those who prefer al fresco dining.
I had the Chief Lager; Roxie had the Gandy Dancer Smoked Porter. Both were exactly as described…and delicious. The fish and chips dinner ($11.00) is my favorite fish and chips anywhere. Period.
The House Made Pretzel Bites appetizer is served with freshly baked (and still warm) pretzel pieces. The dips include beer cheese and whole grain beer mustard. Not to be missed.
Director: Wes Whatley
Set Designer: Elizabeth Kahn
Lighting Designer: Eli Monroe
Sound Designer: Bob Morsch
Costume Designer: Sarah Sheppard Shaver
Stage Manager: Rebecca Savage
Corie Bratter: Kerry Brooke Steele
Paul Bratter: Kevin Brown
Victor Velasco: Warren Epstein
Mrs. Ethel Banks: Dessa Baxman
Telephone Repairman: Gary Nowinski
Delivery Man: David Justice