NEIL SIMON’S EARLY ROMANTIC COMEDY “BAREFOOT IN THE PARK” ASKS, “IS THE HONEYMOON OVER FOR NEWLYWEDS PAUL AND CORIE BRATTER?”
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy will open its sixth sizzling season with Broadway King of Comedy Neil Simon’s Tony Award?-winning 1963 romantic comedy, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, on June 9-13 and 16-20 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC. This early Simon comedy focuses on the escalating friction between newlyweds Paul and Corie Bratter and asks, “Is the honeymoon over?” and “Will the Bratters’ crowded fifth-floor walkup apartment on East 48th Street in New York City be big enough for BOTH of them?”
“To me, this show is a time capsule of a very specific era: those last few months before the country was turned on its head, the last days of mid-century innocence,” says guest director Richard Roland, a native New Yorker.
He adds, “Two major events happened just after the play takes place (in February of 1963): Betty Friedan’s THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE was published, whose impact was gradual but definitely foundation-shifting; and the assassination of JFK in November of the same year. Cliché as it is to reference the event in anything set in the 1960s, it changed almost every aspect of American life.”
Roland asks, “Would the Bratters have behaved differently with each other if the play had been written a year later? Two years later? Would Paul be more cynical rather than just using sarcasm to deal with his fear of change? Would Corie still have had romantic fantasies about married life?
“There’s an innocence about the entire play,” claims Roland. “It’s Neil Simon’s least cynical look at life; and while that may seem out-of-date with many today, there’s a resonance in the hopes and dreams and disagreements of the young couple (Paul and Corie), just as there is with the discovery that there can be a second romance later in life for the older couple (Mother and Velasco). Of course, holding those themes together is the strong fabric of Simon’s very funny words. I think it’s one of his funniest pieces. It’s all those elements that made me want to direct it.”
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK made its Broadway debut, directed by Mike Nichols, on Oct. 23, 1963 at the Biltmore Theatre, where it played for 1,530 performances before closing on June 25, 1967. That show starred Robert Redford as Paul Bratter, Elizabeth Ashley as Corie Bratter, Kurt Kasznar as Victor Velasco, Mildred Natwick as Corie’s mother Mrs. Ethel Banks, Herbert Edelman as Harry Pepper the Telephone Man, and Joseph Keating as the Delivery Man. BAREFOOT IN THE PARK the won 1964 Tony Award? for Best Director (Dramatic); and the show was also nominated for the Tonys for Best Play, Best Producer (Dramatic) (Saint Subber), and Best Actress in a Play (Elizabeth Ashley).
The 1967 motion-picture version of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, directed by Gene Saks from a screenplay by Neil Simon, starred Robert Redford as Paul, Jane Fonda as Corie, Charles Boyer as Victor, Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Banks, Herb Edelman as Harry, and James Stone as the Delivery Man. Natwick was nominated for the 1968 Academy Award? for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
Hot Summer Nights guest director Rich Roland remembers, “I saw the film on TV when I was a kid and was always a big fan of the story (and, of course, Mildred Natwick’s performance). Years later, I played Paul in a production in Florida; and it remains one of the most rewarding journeys I’d ever had as a performer.
“I was hired by a wonderful director who really helped me finesse that fine balance of playing the Simon humor and sarcasm while keeping it honest and making sure the comedy was coming from the reality of the character,” says Roland. “I’ve always had a good ear for, and understanding of, Neil Simon’s language. I’m a native New Yorker, born and raised in Manhattan; I knew the people he wrote about, I heard them speak every day. Neil Simon is sort of like the Horton Foote of New York — he knows the language of his people.”
When the curtain rises, Roland says, “Corie and Paul Bratter (Casey Tuma and Robbie Gay), married only six days and fresh off their New York City deluxe hotel honeymoon, move into their small midtown-east fifth-floor walkup apartment and are presented with the challenge of negotiating their relationship in their new situation. Because of a seemingly disastrous attempt to set up her cautious, conservative, and single mother (Pauline Cobrda) and her eccentric upstairs neighbor Victor Velasco (Paul Paliyenko), Corie sets in motion a contest of wills and ideals with her button-down collar young rising attorney husband, resulting in the young couple’s first fight (partly centered around the fact that Corie calls Paul a stuffed shirt because he wouldn’t walk barefoot in Washington Square Park with her in the middle of winter) which ends with preparations for divorce….
“Corie kicks Paul out of the apartment,” says Roland. “Just as the Bratters seem doomed to split up for good, Corie learns from her mother that she and Victor have indeed hit it off. Mother advises Corie of the virtues of compromise in marriage, which Corie takes to heart. She wants to work things out with Paul. However, since his banishment from the apartment, he has decided to do some compromising of his own by getting roaring drunk and running barefoot through the park.”
Roland adds, “The young couple is reunited and survives their first fight — their marriage will prevail. The situation is framed by a friendly telephone man (Brook North) who wishes the Bratters good luck at the top of the show, then, as he reappears near the end, offers his support and hope for the couple.”
In addition to director Richard Roland, the creative team for this Hot Summer Nights [production of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK includes producers Alan Campbell, Lauren Kennedy, Hilary Russo, Andrea Shulz Twiss, and Adam Twiss; technical director and set and lighting designer Chris Bernier; costume designer Kristin Grieneisen; properties manager Leanne Norton Heintz; sound designer Brian L. Hunt; and stage manager Tiffany Owle.
Roland says, “The set emulates the small, eccentric top-floor apartments of a dying breed in New York City: the brownstone. Cramped but charming, these apartments usually have different levels to them, and Chris Bernier has designed just that — even with a skylight! The stark, open lighting of the first act (the unfurnished apartment) will be replaced by the warmer glow of a tiny Manhattan love nest.”
He adds, “The costumes, while rooted in the style of the early 1960s, will definitely reflect the characters they dress. Corie wears colorful happy outfits, [but] Paul is never seen without a jacket and tie. Mother wears the conservative late 1950s matronly look, while Victor is an amalgam of colors, patterns, and different European hats….
“The major challenge for me is staging this play in a short amount of time,” admits director Rich Roland. “There is a lot of business for the actors: they’re not only playing Simon volleyball all evening, they’re living together in this tiny apartment: cooking, eating, changing clothes, mixing drinks, unwrapping gifts, setting up for a party, etc. I asked for rehearsal props for the very first day of staging, because I wanted my actors to get used to having all they are going to handle in the play in their hands at the very start, even if they’re still holding a script in the other hand.”
Roland adds, “It’s imperative, no matter how frustrating it may be for an actor to be thrown so much so soon, to dive in headfirst with only 14 days of rehearsal. The creative team has been immensely helpful and have bent over backwards to help with this process, and I am already more than indebted to them all.”
He notes, “BAREFOOT IN THE PARK has often been dismissed — or even blasted — as being dated. Well, what’s wrong with that? It’s set in 1963: nearly 50 years ago. At what point does a ‘dated’ piece become a period piece? Why shouldn’t an intimate peek at young married life just before the world changed dramatically be enjoyable?
“There was a Broadway revival recently that missed the mark on so many levels, mostly because it tried to update the look and feel of the show and give it a spin that is incongruous with the heart of the piece,” notes director Richard Roland. “I’d like to remind people that this is a very sweet and very funny show. It’s a comedy and shouldn’t ever be interpreted as anything else. It doesn’t need (and shouldn’t have) a large, glossy production; it isn’t supported by the material. I think the more one stays out of the way of the material, the more the material works.”
The 2010 season of Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy also includes David Nehls and Betsy Kelso’s down-home hit THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL (June 30-July 4 and July 7-11), Ariel Dorfman’s chilling psychological study DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (July 28-Aug. 1 and Aug. 4-8), and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s one-act song cycle TELL ME ON A SUNDAY (Aug. 18-Sept 5), starring Raleigh native, Broadway star, and Hot Summer nights producer Lauren Kennedy. TELL ME ON A SUNDAY will run Aug. 18-22 and 25-29 in the Kennedy Theater in the Progress Energy Center in Raleigh and Sept 1-5 in Barton College’s Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell Theatre in Wilson.
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at 8 p.m. June 9-12 and 16-19 and 3 p.m. June 13 and 20 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
- TICKETS: $22 ($18 students and seniors).
- BOX OFFICE: 866/811-4111 or https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/712565.
- SHOW: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/barefoot.asp.
- PRESENTER: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/.
- VENUE: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/page.php?mode=privateview&pageID=29.
- PARKING/DIRECTIONS: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/page.php?mode=privateview&pageID=36.
- The Play: http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=1844 (Internet Broadway Database) andhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061385/ (Internet Movie Database).
- The Playwright: https://www.msu.edu/~pelowsk1/neilsimon/ (The Unofficial Neil Simon Homepage), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=7879 (Internet Broadway Database), andhttp://www.imdb.com/name/nm0800319/ (Internet Movie Database).
- Richard Roland: http://www.richardroland.com/ (official website),http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=81185 (Internet Broadway Database), andhttp://www.imdb.com/name/nm0738078/ (Internet Movie Database).
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.