'Barefoot in the Park'

Ben Miles
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK by Neil Simon stars Lily Gibson and Paul Rodriguez, now playing at the Laguna Playhouse.

When Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” premiered on Broadway in 1963, “Life Magazine” touted the playwright as using this basic dramatic scenario to construct “one of the funniest comedies ever.”

Undoubtedly, with a cast headed by a twenty something Robert Redford and direction by the legendary Mike Nichols, great success – if not guaranteed – was made quite likely. And, indeed, ”Barefoot” became Simon’s longest running Broadway production, the tenth-longest running non-musical play in the history of the Great White Way.

Now ”Barefoot in the Park” can be seen at the Laguna Playhouse, through March 22. Directed with an emphasis on sight gags – such as the long stairwell climb bit that wears thin as a joke after multiple iterations – and place and period details by Michael Matthews, the staging is greatly aided by impressive stagecraft (a formidable scenic design by Stephen Gifford; a pleasant season-evoking lighting design by Tim Swift; a too obvious sound design by Kate Wecker; and convincing period costuming by Kate Bergh, but why would she attire the handsome leading man in such baggy business suits?).

Though the cast is able, and often impressive, as is the case with Lily Gibson’s incarnation of newlywed Corie Bratter who’s energy is enough to light a small city, and Rita Rudner’s comedic timing and hilarious facial expressions in the role of Ethel – Corie’s buttinsky mother – there are two energy-draining intermissions and too many longueurs to keep the show at a pace that consistently maintains the one-liner punch lines that are the Simon trademarks.

Nevertheless, Nick Tag brings a no-nonsense approach to his characterization of Paul, Corie’s serious-minded groom. And while it’s unfair to compare Tag’s performance to that of screen icon Robert Redford, Tag does manage to make the character his own.

Plus, there’s longtime comedian Paul Rodriguez as the eccentric Victor, who may become an unlikely suitor to Ethel. There are also delightful turns given by John Massey as the telephone repairman (from the era of corded phones) and Thomas Scott as an exhausted delivery man.

Still, this production is more in line with ”Variety’s” assessment of the play’s initial Broadway foray: that despite “Barefoot in the Park’s” survey of the struggles of a newly married middle-class couple in mid century New York City it has “dime-a-dozen premise [and] virtually no plot.”

“Barefoot in the Park” continues through March 22 at the Laguna Playhouse.

The Laguna Playhouse is located at 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.

For times and ticket information call (949)497-2787 or visit http://www.lagunaplayhouse.com.



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