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Theater Review: Simon’s ‘Barefoot In The Park’ A Strong Opener For TheatreWorks Season

NEW MILFORD — This year New Milford’s TheatreWorks has chosen to open their 2014 season with an old favorite from the Sixties: Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park. This was made into a hilarious movie, starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford as the young newlyweds bravely starting off their married life in a sixth-floor walk-up brownstone apartment on East 48th Street in Manhattan. TW New Milford is offering performances though one more weekend, until March 16.

Director Tom Libonate has done a fine job of bringing this show back to life, so that it does not seem at all dated, despite the central importance of a Princess model telephone that requires frequent repair service, or the references to the outrageously high rent of $145 a month.

Jessica Alex and Daniel Willey put their own personal stamp on the roles of Corie and Paul Bratter — she the freespirited enthusiast who craves excitement and adventure, and he the sober, disciplined, ultra responsible lawyer, about to embark on his first real legal case as well as his first experience of married life.

They are backed up by four veterans of the local theater scene: Jeff Savage in a cameo role as a delivery man; Jonathan Ross as a kind but harried telephone repair man; Kevin Sosbe as Victor Velasco, their importunate and impertinent neighbor, who can only get to his attic apartment by climbing out their bedroom window and creeping along a ledge; and most wonderfully, M.J. Hartell as Mrs Banks, Corie’s mother from New Jersey.

The real star of the play, however — and the engine that makes things happen — is the apartment itself. Designed and constructed by Libonate, Rich Pettibone and Glen R. Couture, it allows for a convincing running joke, wherein the characters stagger into the room, speechless and exhausted by the rigors of scaling those six flights. There is a lot of physical comedy here, and Ross and Hartell are particularly good at it.

Also, the lighting by Pettibone and Scott Wyshynski is subtly effective, as by turns the great glass window in the center of the room reflects the flickering lights of the city in the evening, and then provides a clear view of various characters inching along the ledge.

Charmed by the romance of playing house, Corie has impulsively rented the apartment without Paul’s having seen it, oblivious to its many failings: the bedroom too small for anything but a single bed, the radiator that doesn’t work, the hole in the skylight through which snow falls, the closet that regularly floods from the overflowing bathtub in Mr Velasco’s apartment…

When her widowed mother comes to visit, Corie conceives the idea of throwing a party, in order to fix mom up with Mr Velasco. Mrs Banks is nothing if not a good sport, and so the fun begins. But it also leads to the first fight between the newlyweds. Suddenly she thinks he is a stuffed shirt. He just wants to go to sleep. She feels he lacks any creative spark. He would never do anything so impetuous as go barefoot in the park! In February? He asks, indignantly. Tensions escalate…

In his story The Breaking Up of the Winships  James Thurber wrote about a couple whose marriage foundered on the rocks of a silly argument: after seeing an art film, Mrs Winship declared “Who is greater than Greta Garbo!” to which Mr Winship (who just couldn’t help himself) replied “Donald Duck!” This yawning chasm between their respective sensibilities could never be bridged, and so they got a divorce.

Fortunately this doesn’t happen in Neil Simon’s world. Paul loves Corie. And Corie loves Paul. And so you know it’s all going to be all right, no matter what harsh words may get exchanged before the end.

(Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday, March 14-15, at 8 pm, and Sunday, March 16, at 2 pm. Tickets are $23, and can be reserved by calling 860-350-6863 or going online to theatreworks.us.

Tickets are also available at the box office of the theater, at 5 Brookside Avenue in New Milford.)

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