Elizabeth Ashley, who played high-strung newlywed Corie Bratter in the original 1963 Broadway production of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, and Jane Fonda, who portrayed the increasingly rebellious bride of six days in the 1967 film, were both pinup girls at or near the peak of their physical beauty, as well accomplished actresses who combined curves with a fine flair for comedy. But Casey Tuma, who plays Corie in the current Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy production of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, is all sharp edges. Tuma’s Hot Summer Nights debut performance is forced and increasingly frantic.
Her Corie not only has a hair-trigger temper and a lacerating tongue, but Tuma makes her increasingly strident, with an overabundance of nervous energy that quickly becomes irritating and, over the course of the evening, is just short of unbearable.
Having an overwrought Casey Tuma as one of the key ingredients of this comic soufflé makes impossible demands on Hot Summer Nights capable guest director Richard Roland and the rest of an otherwise remarkable cast. Robbie Gay is a charming comic actor, with a gift for slapstick a la Dick Van Dyke. He plays conservative corporate attorney Paul Bratter as a man increasingly bewildered that the sweet and sexy girl that he married is turning into a real bridezilla.
Pauline Cobrda is a stitch as Corie’s meddlesome mother Mrs. Ethel Banks; Paul Paliyenko plays the Bratters’ outrageously eccentric upstairs neighbor Victor Velasco with plenty of Old World panache; and Brook North huffs and puffs hilariously as the telephone man Harry Pepper, whose strenuous trek up five floors to install a beige Princess phone in the Bratters’ tiny apartment may yet be the death of him.
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK may be early Neil Simon, but it’s also vintage Neil Simon. If Casey Tuma can make Corie a little more sexy and a lot less abrasive, and if she can relax and just trust the material, Hot Summer Nights’ handsome season-opener — with its remarkably realistic set by scenic designer Chris Bernier and its striking outfits by costume designer Kristin Grieneisen — can become a real crowd-pleaser.
by Robert W. McDowell
Robert McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review of Raleigh, NC. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.E-mail RobertM748[at]aol.com to start your FREE subscription to this weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter.