Directed by Michael Driscoll
Produced by Step Up Productions
At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
Vintage Simon classic in good hands
Featuring a terrific set design (by William Boles) of a 6th floor NYC walk up complete with a skylight with a broken pane that actually becomes a character in the play, director Michael Driscoll has mounted a funny vintage production of Simon’s ode to first apartments which delivers on all levels.
Neil Simon’s second Broadway hit, Barefoot In The Park, opened in 1963 and ran for 1,530 performances, winning a Tony Award for director Mike Nichols. Barefoot In The Park firmly established Neil Simon as a master of comedy with his sharp wit, firm structure, and vivid characterizations of middle class urban dwellers. The original Broadway production featured Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley as the newlyweds. (Jane Fonda joined Redford in the hit 1967 film).
Alex Fisher is the spirited (horny) newlywed bride who found the ugly, run-down apartment. She is optimistic that the dump will become “their” place. When the out of shape husband Paul (Colin Sphar) almost passes out from the long six floor climb, Simon makes the place a foil for terrific comedy.
Paul is aghast with each short coming the apartment features (no bath tub, little heat, and a tiny bedroom). Corie is a free spirit; Paul a stuffed-shirt, quite proper lawyer. Add a zany cosmopolitan Albanian neighbor, Victor (delicious suave Michael Pascas) and Corie’s lonely hypochondriac mother (Sarah Minton) and Neil Simon has the players in place for a hilarious light-weight comedy. Barefoot In The Park is a classic lesson in structuring. Simon weaves the wacky situations, plays one incident off another, and smoothly develops funny situations peppered with smart retorts and fun physicality. Combining cute slap stick, door slamming angst, funny drunkenness, and manic energy from Corie, Simon’s show leads to roaring explosive comedy. The universal lessons and stellar characterizations deliver a timeless look at newlyweds as they struggle through the initial stages of married life.
Colin Sphar and Alex Fisher demonstrate fine stage chemistry as the young couple, while Randolph Johnson as the phone installer get the comedy set up effectively. Michael Pascas’ over-the-top Victor brilliantly helps mother to realize there is life after your daughter leaves the nest.
The wackiness, the sight gags, and the physicality all work together to sustain a light weight old fashioned comedy. The argument scene between Alex Fisher and Colin Sphar is a classic high energy and physically demanding one that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. This is hilarious, well directed and superbly acted classic Simon fun!
For more info checkout the Barefoot In the Park page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-935-6875.