The Column Online



by Neil Simon

Garland Civic Theatre

Directed by Tim Doyle
Stage Manager – Amanda Gonzales
Assistant Stage Manager – Morgan LeMay
Costumes – Kerra Sims
Prop Master – Autumn Barganier
Crew – Chris Schroeder & Ronak Rana
Producer – Josh Hensley

Corie Bratter – Zoe Settle
Paul Bratter – Gabriel Ethridge
Victor Velasco – Jon Morehouse
Corie’s Mother – Dana Proulx-Willis
Telephone Repair Man – Evan Figg
Delivery Man – David Tinney

Reviewed Performance: 9/7/2018

Reviewed by Carol St George, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

We found ourselves at Garland Civic Theatre on a rainy Friday night, along with more than a few dedicated fans, to see Barefoot in the Park, even though we would rather have stayed home and curled up with Netflix. But once the play got underway, we couldn’t imagine having a better time elsewhere. Fifty-one years ago, this was the first play staged at this GCT. For this small, comfortable hometown theater to have that kind of longevity means they must be doing something right. On opening night, they were.

Barefoot in the Park, Neil Simon’s classic, quick-witted comedy – his longest-running Broadway hit, later adapted for a popular 1967 film with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda – takes place entirely in the top-floor apartment of a brownstone on East 48th Street, New York City, where it has just been rented by newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter. It’s late afternoon on a cold February day in the 1960s, and as Corie nervously tidies up while she waits for her husband to come home and discover the apartment she’s chosen, the buzzer keeps ringing with deliveries and service calls. First come packages from Lord & Taylor sent by Corie’s mother, and then the telephone repair man shows up to install the new princess phone. But alas, the furniture has yet to be delivered, so after spending a blissful six days at a posh hotel the newlyweds may be sleeping on the floor their first night home. In typical Neil Simon fashion, things go downhill from there.

The play’s premise is simple. We’re witnessing a couple adjust to their first five days of post-honeymoon marriage. But we’re also learning that life won’t be a picnic for these polar opposites. Paul (Gabriel Ethridge) is a tightly buttoned-down lawyer, and Corie (Zoe Settle) is a free spirit who’d rather run barefoot through Central Park than wear the shoes of a traditional 60s homemaker. Their differences intensify as they interact with the other characters, which include Corie’s mother (Dana Proulx-Willis), the quirky neighbor in the attic, Victor Velasco (Jon Morehouse), the telephone repair man (Evan Figg), and the delivery man (David Tinney). It’s a slim cast and a modest set, just the apartment living room, which is bare bones to start with and then sparsely furnished and decorated in act two, which picks up four days later. But between Neil Simon’s writing and the actors’ sharp, well-timed lines and sight gags, the comedy keeps coming.

One repeated gag has characters entering the apartment in a state of dishevelment and exhaustion, having dragged themselves up five flights of stairs. It works every time. The energy of the play’s most animated characters, Corie and Velasco, is contagious. Like Eveready batteries, they never run down. Zoe Settle gives the spunky, impulsive Corie a lust for life, and her husband. She’s restless, game for adventure, and fun to watch – the perfect foil to her stuffed-shirt husband. Gabriel Ethridge is appropriately stiff as Paul, the all-work-no-play lawyer. But early in the play it’s hard to tell whether the discomfort we sense in him belongs to the character or the actor. Later, he seems to relax into the role as the plot gets zanier. And he goes all in when the comic tension reaches its peak during the couple’s first spat. Corie offsets his elevated emotion with hysterical sobbing.

Dana Proulx-Willis gives us a seasoned, well-rounded and affable performance as Corie’s mother. Just the right mix of warmth and snobbishness, she’s too proper, but lubricated with a few cocktails, she lets her hair down to reveal a woman capable of both passion and compassion. The surprise scene stealer is Jon Morehouse as Velasco. An eccentric and nutty European, he delivers some of the play’s best lines and enjoys every minute of it, as does the audience. Proulx-Willis and Morehouse make the most of their extensive theater experience, giving us real characters, not just caricatures, which makes them more endearing. In fact, the whole cast is likeable. Evan Figg’s telephone repair man is engaging as a sympathetic, everyday blue-collar New Yorker. His face alone neatly conveys his take on the tempest surrounding the newlyweds. Even David Tinney brings his own sense of fun to his brief role as the delivery man.

The cast comes straight out of Neil Simon’s character playbook and comic genius. Simon typically wrote about ordinary working-class folks (usually New Yorkers) in comic situations, often involving difficult relationships. It was his unhappy childhood with dysfunctional parents that drove him to comedy. But he excelled in the genre, with Barefoot in the Park (1963) and The Odd Couple (1965) putting him on the map, where they remain Simon’s go-to comedies, revived year after year. With his very recent death on August 26, his humor will be sorely missed.

The GCT production succeeds at keeping Simon’s spirit alive. Autumn Barganier’s set nicely captures Paul and Corie’s apartment, right down to the leaking skylight. Kera Sims’ costumes recreate the 60s effectively. And Tim Doyle’s directorial debut shows plenty of confidence, with the character’s movements and dialog snapping along at an increasingly quickening pace.

All in all, GCT’s Barefoot in the Park is a fun romp and one more reason we can be assured that the laughter Neil Simon left us will never die.

Barefoot in the Park
Garland Civic Theatre
Granville Arts Center, 300 N. 5th St., Garland, Texas
Runs through September 23, 2018
For tickets: 972-205-2790