Being a fan of live theatre, whether it is community or otherwise, I jumped at the chance to see Long Beach Playhouse’s (LBPH) new production of Barefoot in the Park. Trying to remember if I had ever seen it before, and racking my brain for a storyline, I instead had visions of Jane Fonda, Scoey Mitchell and my friend Ray Smith running through my head– all at the same time. I asked myself, what in the world could that unlikely trio have to do with the play?
Trying to shake off the confusing notion, I sat down and began to glance through the evening’s printed program. A-ha! The memories came flooding back to me. I have seen the play before (here at LBPH, my friend Ray Smith had a small part); I saw the movie (on late-night television, starring Jane Fonda) and I watched the short-lived television series of the same name (featuring Scoey Mitchell in 1970). I wondered, would this version be memorable?
Barefoot in the Park is a comedy written by Neil Simon. The storyline is basically quite simple: a young couple (Paul and Corie Bratter, played here by Eric Pierce and Vanessa Rose Parker) get married, have a fabulous six-day honeymoon, move into their tiny sixth-floor walk-up apartment, Paul is all work and no play, and Corie has unrealistic romantic expectations and a meddling yet well-meaning mother (Ethel Banks, played in this production by Rocky Bonifield). Put it all together, and the relationship is doomed– so it seems.
It has been said that the first year of marriage is the most difficult; in this case the first two weeks are unbearable! What starts as a romance of cooing and kissing turns into screaming matches that would rival those on any soap opera. Poor Corie wants Paul to be more fun and spend time with her; all the while Paul is trying to immerse himself in his work as a young attorney. Bored silly, Corie reaches out to her Bohemian/lothario neighbor Victor Velasco (played here by Paul Ramirez) and decides to fix him up with her rather prim and proper mother.
The foursome have a night on the town at an Albanian restaurant, where Corie, Victor and Mrs. Banks have too much Ouzo liquor. Since straight-laced Paul has stayed completely sober, he fails to find fun in all the singing, dancing and falling down that takes place afterward in his miniscule abode.
When the evening ends, the newlyweds are left alone with their picayune squabbling, Corie decides loudly that she wants a divorce. I won’t say there’s a happy ending; there is, but that isn’t the best part of the show. The best part of the show is the journey the young couple takes amid the yelling, kissing, laughter and learning they share with charismatic Victor and sensually awakened Ethel Banks.
The production’s director, Denis McCourt, did a phenomenal job with the casting, but then he was certainly fortunate to have such amazing actors to cast. Both Pierce and Parker did fabulous jobs of convincing us that they were the newlyweds Paul and Corie, and, I must say, I have rarely felt such chemistry between two romantic leads, comedy or drama. They were so believable, I felt as if I were a peeping tom eavesdropping on a series of very private conversations. As far as the character Mrs. Banks goes, Rocky Bonifield nailed it as a concerned yet more than slightly meddling mother/mother-in-law. She was backhanded with her compliments but did so with such humor that the audience fell in love with her (I think Mr. Velasco did too)!
Speaking of Victor Velasco, the role of the accented wannabe Casanova was maneuvered with the skill of an expert snake charmer, as Paul Ramirez never gave his co-stars or audience members a moment to doubt who owned the stage. The stage belonged to Victor!
With all that being said, I do want to comment on the three ladies who favored us with 1960s songs between the acts. With choreography and costuming reminiscent of The Supremes, Whitney Mignon Reed, Elaine Hayhurst and Deborah Cartwright did a great job of adding to the story with such tunes as “Mr. Postman” and “Wishing and Hoping.”
Well, as I said earlier, I wondered if this version would be memorable. The answer is yes. I loved it, and I know that anyone who remembers young love or who just wants to have an entertaining night out shouldn’t miss LBPH’s Barefoot in the Park.
Barefoot in the Park will continue on Thursdays at 8pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm through Saturday, Feb. 11. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Admission is $24 for adults, $21 for seniors, $14 for students, and $8 for Long Beach Unified School District students with ID. Tickets are available at lbplayhouse.org or by calling (562) 494-1014, option 1