Compass Rose’s Barefoot in the Park
Neil Simon’s 1963 romantic comedy Barefoot in the Park was a box office smash on stage and screen, not merely because it starred dreamy Robert Redford but because it’s packed with hilarious moments. What’s not to get about newlyweds learning the hard lessons of why opposites not only attract but also repel? The story, as old as matrimony, roused braying guffaws of recognition from Compass Rose Studio Theater’s mature audience on opening night.
Free-spirited Corie (Brianna Letourneau) and stuffed-shirt Paul (Brandon McCoy) are newlyweds in their first apartment, a decrepit fifth-floor walk-up. Typical for the time, he works hard all day while she pines for him at home, where diversion always rings the doorbell and complains of the climb. Corie’s lonely mother Ethel (Lucinda Merry-Browne) drops by unannounced from the suburbs, huffing and puffing and biting her tongue in a most civilized manner. The wheezy telephone repairman (Thomas ‘Toby’ Hessenauer) dispenses marital advice with his dial tones, along with hilarious physical comedy. And Bohemian neighbor Victor Velasco (R. Scott Williams) accesses his attic garret via their bedroom window.
More than just a friendly inconvenience, the aging Victor presents a virile threat and challenge for Corie, who recognizes in him her own passion for life, which she feels is missing from husband Paul and mother Ethel. So she orchestrates a double date that succeeds too well with the elder set but threatens her own marriage.
It was a great premise for its time: The love-drunk little lady demanding adventure while craving security, the mother and drunken husband learning to loosen up, the drunken outdoorsman injuring himself. There’s a lot of cocktail humor in this show, rather as in old Bewitched reruns. Add in the sexism of the era, and this classic feels dated to modern audiences. Judging from the reaction of at least one 20-something, newlyweds don’t get excited about playing house anymore. They have babies and buy houses first. Thus, the set-up of Act I is less entertaining than the pay-off of Act II. Still, once the lovers start to quarrel, it’s all barbed humor leading to the eternal message that love really is all you need.
This production is special for several reasons. It stars real-life newlyweds who know how to kiss with conviction; both are alumni of Catholic University’s theater program, as is director James Phillips. Four of the five actors are Compass Rose veterans, including Merry-Browne, the founding artistic director of the teaching theater company. With its all-adult cast, this show’s emphasis on professional performance makes for a smooth two hours of entertaining commentary on matrimony and human nature.