For one whose job it is to delve into the deeper substance of any given work, be it film or stage or music or whatever, I value things that allow me to go below the surface, that allow for a richer experience, that make me say more than “well that was nice.” Fluffy comedies (of the romantic variety or otherwise) don’t typically offer that.
“Barefoot in the Park” is, undoubtedly, a fluffy romantic comedy. It never tries to pretend it is anything other than just that, however, and that’s part of what makes it work. There’s something to be said for a work that knows precisely what it is and makes no excuses otherwise.
Thankfully, however, this is also a play by Neil Simon, a playwright who knows how to make things light and funny but also never forgets that there are two very human characters at the center of his show. It’s a quality that is at the beating heart of his most well-known work, “The Odd Couple,” and one that is certainly present here as well, though perhaps not quite as strongly.
“Barefoot in the Park” introduces us to Corie (Skye Graham) and Paul (Jeff Olver), two newlyweds moving into their first apartment on the sixth floor of a New York City brownstone. They’re about as excited as newlyweds can be, but the honeymoon doesn’t last long.
The six-floor climb takes the wind out of everyone trekking their way up to the unit, the hole in the ceiling lets snow drift in, there’s no bathtub (Paul refuses to take showers), no kitchen, a tiny bedroom and they meet their eccentric new neighbor, Victor Velasco (Tom Young), when he crawls outside their bedroom window to get up to his attic loft directly above. They can’t even enjoy an evening of wedded bliss in their new place because Paul soon is informed he’s being given his first case at the law firm and must pull an all-nighter preparing for court. Throw in Corie’s invasive mother (Suzanne Alford), and it’s clear the going won’t be easy for these two lovebirds.
There are times when the play skirts dangerously close to feeling cliché (She’s a wild and free spirit! He’s stuffy and uptight! How will they ever save their relationship?!), though Simon sort of helped to define those archetypes in the first place so it gets a pass. Even if Simon didn’t help define them as such, his writing is strong enough that it overcomes those problems.
especially at this particular stage in a person’s life. Like with Oscar and Felix in “The Odd Couple,” Corie and Paul never devolve into cartoons as they so easily could, but instead retain the needed emotional core.
Much of this is thanks also to the performances by Olver and Graham. Olver, as I’ve said on multiple occasions is one of the most promising new talents at Tyler Civic Theatre Center. Here he cements his status as a solid actor and as consistent a performer as the Center could ask for and has excellent chemistry with his stage partner, Ms. Graham.
It is Ms. Graham, however, who steals the show. A newcomer to the TCTC stage, she bursts onto the round with an ebullience and energy that has been unmatched as of late. She embodies Corie’s young spirit and naiveté wonderfully and provides the rest of the cast a perfect platform to bounce from.
The entire cast, though, is uniformly excellent, though. Tom Young once again proves he’s perhaps TCTC’s most enjoyable and reliable character actor. Suzanne Alford has the somewhat thankless job of being the passive aggressively invasive mother-in-law but she fills the role well and gets a couple good moments with Graham. Even Kelly Weber’s minor appearance as a telephone repairman manages to leave an impression.
“Barefoot in the Park” is a solid way to begin the year for TCTC. The play is enjoyable and funny on its own terms with just enough heart to make a longer-lasting impression. Recommended for anyone wanting to start 2013 with a laugh.
Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday with a 2:30 p.m. matinee Sunday. For additional performances dates and times as well as ticket information, call Tyler Civic Theatre Center at 903-592-0561 or visit www.tylercivictheatre.com.