Review by Danny Gaisin
The muse and I moved into a one bedroom apartment in July ‘63. Neil Simon’s comedy about young marrieds – “Barefoot in the Park” opened on Broadway three months later. Did his play touch home??? You betcha. Our personal embellishments; wifey’s broken toe trying to kick me; a fist stuck in a pressed-wood lattice door resulting from an attempted punch… all manifestations of new-husband abuse. Fifty years later, we’re still battling it out for the title of ‘boss’!
‘Truth be known, Terry is more of a “Paul” while I’m certainly the play’s Corie*.
Simon’s plot deals with the newly-weds fresh from a hotel honeymoon to a garret-type unfurnished brownstone where they rent the sixth floor walk-up. Below live some weirdo tenants; above them a poverty-stricken middle-aged bachelor. No heat; leaky skylight, and before the furniture arrives: – the phone installer; Paul; and then Corie’s mom all show up almost exhausted from the six storeys schlep upstairs. The stress of the climb; demands of Paul’s career [law]; a matchmaking episode between the neighbor & Mom etc. lead to an impressive argument and you, dear readers, can guess the denouement.
Mississauga Players’ director Randy Bridge who also has an on-stage cameo, has cast two strong thespians in the principal roles. Unfortunately, Jennifer Van Essen and Simon Joseph while giving credible portrayals, fail to exhibit any sincere chemistry. Van Essen understates her depiction of the free-spirited Corie. Everyone knows that a new wife is mercurial; this rendering is rather temperate, even when she’s being emotional. Joseph brings more credibility to his reading of Paul; and his continual prat-falling emulation is worthy of Dick Van Dyke’s ‘Rob Petrie’ shenanigans. He comes close but doesn’t cross the line into hamminess. The mother is played by Karen Shue and she’s a perfect cast choice. Her demeanor, timing and subtleties all are bang-on. The brief walk-ons by Kwame Frempong were marred by some vocal projections but his stances and facial expressions are enough to transmit the burdens and stresses of his Verizon™ or Con Ed™ employment.
The set designed by Maggie McEwan is somewhat sparse thus mirroring the bleakness of what faces the Bratters. Her mixing of French & Italian Provincial styles mirrors the obvious financial limitations the newly-weds face. No serious interior decorator-ish look to defeat the intended on-stage atmosphere. Audiences will have ample opportunities to laugh at the situations as well as the dialogue; empathize with the burgeoning marital relationship, and will mentally encourage Sammy Allouba’s “Victor” in his amorous pursuit of Shue’s “Ethel”.
“Barefoot in the Park” will be at Mississauga’s Maja Prentice (Library) theatre (Burnham’e & Dixie Rd) until June 1st. Shirts & SHOES required!
*note: Simon called his female lead CORIE; In this production, she’s CORRIE