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Center Stage: ‘Barefoot In The Park’ proves that classics never get stale

By Staff | Jan 28, 2020

Marsha Wagner

The Florida Repertory Theatre hit another comic home run with its latest presentation of Neil Simon’s classic “Barefoot In The Park,” which opens the 2020 season at the Historic Arcade Theatre in downtown Fort Myers. This wistful domestic comedy set in the 1960s in New York’s Greenwich Village was a Broadway hit from the day it opened in October 1963, featuring Elizabeth Ashley and Robert Redford.

Most us seem to remember the movie version, featuring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Be that as it may, the Florida Rep’s version proves that a 57-year-old comedy has as much relevance today as it did back in the “good old days.” Sure we could say this comedy is pure escapism, but “Barefoot In The Park” holds its own, simply because it is also an insightful look at the human condition, especially when written by one of theater’s master comedy writers.

Look at it this way, anyone who has ever moved into a “fixer upper,” knows how marital arguments can start over nothing and escalate into a major “knock down drag out,” especially if the couple are newly married (or partnered). My take on this comedy classic is that there is still life in these old war horses – if they are delivered with talent, commitment and energy. Which the Florida Rep delivers, under the watchful eye of Artistic Director Greg Longenhagen and his excellent professional cast.

Simon’s plot is set in a ’60s Greenwich Village dilapidated brownstone, with newly-wed Paul Bratter (expertly portrayed by former Rep intern Brian Hatch) and his wife, Corrie Bratter (skillfully played by Hannah McKechnie, who is making her promising Rep debut). Paul, on the one hand, is a buttoned down, uptight, newly-hired attorney, while Corrie is a free spirited, fun loving, first-time housewife. This situation of opposites attract causes all sorts of comedic chaos. Especially when Corrie tries to convince Paul to “ease up and go with the flow.” (Remember those expressions?) Meanwhile, Paul bristles and attempts to get Corrie to settle down and cool it.

Fat chance of that happening with all the annoying stuff happening in their little love nest on the Fourth Floor walkup, under a broken sky light. What’s more, this cabin in the sky is far from ideal in other ways like: no bathtub, no heat coming out of the ancient heater, kooky loud sounding plumbing, wild and crazy neighbors living above and below them, and the list goes on. The worst is the climb up the Fourth Floor walkup, which doesn’t count the front outside steps (making it five floors), exhausting anyone attempting this awesome top of the building hike. The physical laughs this hike gets are part of the fun in this gem of a comedy.

Added to the comic marriage game are some delightful characters, one of them being Corrie’s somewhat controlling, judgmental, slightly ditzy mom, Ethel (played to the hilt by Rep favorite Katrina Ferguson, which proves that there are some really great roles for older actresses to perform). While I’m at it, I also must mention some fine comedic character acting by V. Craig Heidenreich as Victor Velasco, another terrific Florida Rep ensemble player. Not to be overlooked in this fine cast are Brendan Powers (a Rep ensemble favorite) as the telephone man and Mike Filipowski (a Florida Rep volunteer since 2015). Both proved once again that there are “no small roles” in a good production of a good play.

Bottom line, Longenhagen and his talented cast were able to weave together a lot of wacky situations, spicing it up with some physical fun and adding lots of humor, proving that classics like “Barefoot In The Park” never get stale and deliver enough laughs to send an audience on its way with big grins on their faces. Thanks one and all for a fun evening of great comic theater.

Stay tuned for the next show on the “boards” or the Rep, when “A Gentlemen’s Guide To Love And Murder” takes over from Feb. 11 to March 4. Phone the box office for times and tickets at 239-332-4488. Remind ’em when you phone that Marsha sent you.