Uncompromised Cuteness: BAREFOOT IN THE PARK

Tom Shoemaker (Paul Bratter) and Marisa Gold (Corie Bratter); Photograph – Earl Christie Photography

Tom Shoemaker (Paul Bratter) and Marisa Gold (Corie Bratter); Photograph – Earl Christie Photography

Presented by Moonbox Productions
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Allison Olivia Choat
Original music composed by Dan Rodriguez

Nov. 20 – Dec. 12, 2015
Plaza Theater
Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
Moonbox on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

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(Boston, MA) At first blush, Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park appears to be a fluffy romcom with about as much depth as the Frog Pond during a late-August drought. Upon closer inspection, it could be perceived as a satire addressing the impossible expectations placed on 1960’s newly-wed couples. I know it’s a stretch. Bear with me for a second.

Corie Bratter (Marisa Gold) is a 20-something housewife who was raised to be perky and sincere (not smart or self-sufficient). She is creating a home out of nearly nothing for new hubby, Paul (Tom Shoemaker) a burgeoning lawyer/capable puppy in a tie. On the first day of their new adult lives in their new five-floor walkup, nothing is going right: Corie’s Mom (Sheriden Thomas) can’t help but go out of her way to inject herself into the hubbub; the furniture hasn’t been delivered; Paul has to work late; upstairs neighbor, Mr. Velasco (Phil Thompson), comes and goes as he pleases; and the sky keeps snowing through the 20 foot high ceiling. What they lack in experience they are trying to make up for with exuberance.

Any couple who’s been together longer than a few years remembers what it’s like to feel idiotically in love. It’s bit as if you’re inventing the experience for humanity: no one has ever experienced love like you before. No one will ever love like you again! Meanwhile, a lot of other people are happy for you but will keep far away until you settle down and put your pants back on. Watching Barefoot is like watching a young couple fast-forward through the motions. It’s sweet but fallout is imminent.

Gold and Shoemaker do a lovely job of emulating the giddy, punch-drunk sensation of immature romance. This goes double for Gold who’s tasked not only carrying the three act show but also portraying a nubile 60’s housewife stereotype. Gold’s Corie is completely ignorant of both emotional responsibility and housekeeping basics but she has the bravery of 100 lions. She’s going to make a home for her husband if it kills him because that’s what wives do. It nearly does.

Gold and Shoemaker also capture the absolute ignorance of young married people who don’t know how to communicate with each other or navigate compromise. They’ve been told that marriage is something you do immediately, rather than something you create together over time. The Bratters’ expectations of marriage don’t match up with the reality that hits them over the head. That their first real argument threatens their marriage isn’t contrived; it’s completely natural.

That being said, the set design by John Paul Devlin is super cute and realistic. It’s yellows and greens echo the sweet simplicity of young love while revealing every speck of dirt and dust in the place. It’s very “first apartment out of college, Mom is still supplementing my rent” chic.

The act three simultaneous monologues of Sheridan and Gold don’t work. I’m sure Simon meant well but the moment is pushed. Our actors give it the old college try but what we see is awkward rather than revelatory. It’s the only wooden moment in an otherwise fluid show.

Love means apologizing frequently and trying things you’ve never tried before in the name of happiness. Barefoot in the Park is a cute show. Direction by Allison Olivia Choat injects a dollop of severity into Simon’s work. What we see on the stage is funny and we’re reminded that any relationship worth being in takes work.

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