Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park is an amusing time capsule from the early 1960s – the clothing, the technology, the barely restrained longing for martinis and whiskey. Don Draper could walk in at any moment. In the wrong hands, it could play like a diorama at the Natural History Museum. Credit director Jessica Stone and the cast for leaning into the dated material and making it work.
Corie and Paul Bratter (Kerry Bishe and Chris Lowell) are newlyweds and so much in love. After a weeklong honeymoon at The Plaza, they’ve moved into their five-floor Manhattan walkup. Corie is smart, goofy, enthusiastic. Paul is a stoic, driven lawyer. They don’t quite mesh.
The play encapsulates that moment when two people realize the honeymoon (and everything that came before it) is not the actual marriage. Did I pick the right life partner? Is the spouse in my head different from the spouse in the kitchen?
The apartment is small, expensive and not quite functional, which doesn’t help their adjustment. Plus, it’s five flights up, a running joke that runs, perhaps, a bit too long. Paul is trying to dive into his law career and Corie just wants to spend time loving on her husband. It’s not the idyllic life they both anticipated.
Bishe is clearly the star. Her character dances around the apartment, exuding optimism and good feelings towards all people. By contrast, Lowell plays Paul as dour, almost world-weary, at least in the early parts of the play. You wonder how they fell in love in the first place.
The cast is rounded out by Corie’s mother, Ethel (Mia Dillon), telephone repairman (Jake Millgard) and eccentric upstairs neighbor Victor Velasco (Jere Burns). Burns owns the stage, and the chemistry between Corie and Victor is electric. You half expect her to request him in a younger model.
The set evokes Manhattan decay in the most fetching way possible. One of the set changes, and an associated costume adjustment, is downright brilliant. The mid-60s score sets the stage quite nicely. There are two intermissions, which given the play’s brevity seems like at least one too many.
The show debuted 55 years ago, and it reminds us how we used to live. Remember princess phones? Calling the weather? It adds an extra layer of comedy Simon may not have anticipated.
In the end, Barefoot in the Park is a fun peek at the way we were, and an enjoyable night at the theater. Have a martini beforehand.