A Romantic Comedy
Corie: You wouldn’t even walk barefoot with me in
Washington Square Park!
Paul: It was 17 degrees!
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
Presented By: Virginia Rep
At: Hanover Tavern, 13181 Hanover Courthouse Road, Hanover, VA 23069
Performances: December 11, 2021 – January 9, 2022
Ticket Prices: $48. Prices are subject to change during the run. Discounted Group Rates and Rush Tickets are available.
Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org
First, let’s be clear: yes, it’s December, and SURPRISE! – Neil Simon’s BAREFOOT IN THE PARK is not a Christmas show. What it is, is a delightful romantic comedy that appears to be as much fun for the actors as it is for the audience.
The plot is a simple one: two newlyweds move into their first apartment after spending their honeymoon is an upscale New York City hotel. Their new home is a fifth floor walk up in a Manhattan brownstone. Let’s just say it’s a fixer-upper. There’s a kitchenette, a bathroom with no bathtub (but at least the bathroom is inside the apartment – those familiar with old New York apartments know what I’m talking about), and a bedroom so small that when you open the door it hits the double bed, which you have to climb over to reach the closet, which is leaking. Speaking of leaks, there is a hole in the skylight – you know, the window in the roof – and it’s February. The apartment quickly drives home this young couple’s differences: she’s impulsive and free-spirited and he is a conservative lawyer who is more compatible with his mother-in-law than her own daughter has ever been.
Rachel Rose Gilmour was perfectly cast as newlywed housewife Corie Bratter. (And yes, I’m using the terms that would have been used in 1968.) Her brightly colored wardrobe captures both the period and her character’s personality. Trevor Lawson demonstrates enviable restraint as the husband who is hit with one surprise after another: the rent is twice as much as Corie is willing to tell her mother they actually pay; Paul saw the third floor apartment prior to moving in, not realizing their apartment was on the fifth floor – not counting the outside stoop, and of course there is the matter of the tiny kitchen, the lack of a bathtub, and the miniscule size of the bedroom. To make matters worse, their furniture is delayed.
As compelling as Gilmour and Lawson are, it was Jill Williams, reprising her 2005 role as Corie’s mother, Ethel Banks, who stole the show. Williams reminds me – and I truly mean this as a compliment – of Carol Burnett. Her carriage, her facial expressions ( especially when commenting on her daughter’s apartment), her gestures, her delivery all work together to deliver pure, belly laughing comedy. I simply loved Jill Williams in this role. Opposite Williams was Joe Pabst, also reprising his role as the eccentric neighbor Victor (pronounced “Wicktor”) Velasco. How eccentric is he? I am glad you asked. Not only does he cavort about in a beret, a dressing gown, and slippers, he is a shameless flirt and moocher, and we first meet him when he knocks on the Bratters’ door so he can climb through their window to gain access to his attic apartment, But I won’t give it all away. Go see it to find out why, it’s well worth the trip.
Supporting roles include Quan Chau as the telephone repair man and Williams’ husband Eric Williams as a delivery man. Who’s old enough to remember when the telephone was connected to the wall and the phone number was alpha-numeric? The Bratter’s new phone number was El Dorado 5-8191.One further cast note – and I had to think about whether to mention this at all, but I think it is relevant. This cast of Barefoot in the Park is an example of color-blind casting. Yes, an Asian actor plays the telephone repair man, but even more significantly, the leading man is played by a person of color. It would have been quite unusual to see an interracial couple in New York in 1968, or a black male lawyer living in midtown Manhattan who was completely accepted by his white mother in law who lives in New Jersey. Yeah. All of that would have made this an entirely different type of play – and the word “comedy” would not have been part of it.
While much less elaborate than many period apartments that have been constructed on the Hanover Tavern stage, Terrie Powers’ set design quickly transformed from a hideous empty shell into a warm and inviting home with just a few pieces of furniture and some well-chosen decorations. Logistically, there were a couple of things that seemed a little off. The fourth wall apparently held a mirror, but sometimes the actors seemed to be looking through the wall. And the other was the existence of a wood-burning stove in the apartment which may not have been a housing code violation in 1968 but it would certainly have been unlikely for a landlord to allow a tenant to use it.
There is plenty of physical comedy in Barefoot in the Park, much of it stemming from the never-ending flights of stairs. Director Jan Guarino set a brisk pace, and the cast maintains the standard she set. There are falls (or near misses), an accident, a drunken scene, and missing clothes. There is the running joke of using the Bratter bedroom to access Victor’s apartment. Corie, Paul, and their visitors must navigate each time they enter or exit the building. After a wild night on the town – after Corie tricks her mother into going on a blind date with Victor – Paul ends up climbing the stairs with his MIL on his back. And since it’s February, we cannot really be surprised when a few snowflakes drift through the open skylight.
Barefoot in the Park addresses big themes like opposites attract, the importance of being yourself, and the power of love. But the comedy is what makes this spirit-lifting winner.
FUN FACT: The average rent for a NYC apartment in 1970 was $102. The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in NYC in 2021 is $3,250 and is closer to $4,000 per month in the midtown neighborhood where Neil Simon’s play is set. Corrie and Paul are paying about $145 per month, but she insists on telling her mother they are paying only about $75.63.
FUN FACT: Corie and Paul spent their Honeymoon at the Plaza Hotel. In 1968 the Plaza cost $30 per night; current rates are about $850 per night.
FUN FACT: A Brownstone is a rowhouse, made of brick fronted with brownstone that was originally popular because of its natural look and low price, compared to other stone finishes. Found mostly in Brooklyn and Manhattan, brownstone homes were originally single-family homes. Many were subdivided into apartments. Most existing brownstone homes are about 100 years old, and as they are no longer constructed the prices have gone up. When I graduated from high school in 1973 my grandmother sold the small Brooklyn brownstone where I grew up for $30,000. Now, 48 years later, it is currently assessed at $1,149,500.
Barefoot in the Park
by Neil Simon
Directed by Jan Guarino
Corie Bratter ……..………… Rachel Rose Gilmour
Paul Bratter ………;;;;;……. Trevor Lawson
Ethel Banks …………….….… Joy Williams
Victor Velasco ………………. Joe Pabst
Telephone Repairman …. Quan Chau
Delivery Man ………….…….. Eric Williams
Ethel Banks understudy .. Terrie Powers
Scenic Design: Terrie Powers
Costume Design: Sue Griffin & Marcia Miller Hailey
Lighting Design: Matt Landwehr
Sound Design: Jacob Mishler
Stage Management: Sam Shahinian
Run Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes including 2 intermissions
Note: At this time, no food or drink is allowed inside the theater
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten
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