A comedic romp up five flights of stairs (six if you count the stoop but who’s counting?) An empty apartment; a newlywed couple currently on the rollercoaster ride of their six whole days of being married— who could ask for a better comedy? Add to it a charming crackpot who lives in the attic and sneaks up through the apartment window and a mother who has issues with her digestion among other things and you have the quintessential Neil Simon comedy as Compass Rose Theater presents Barefoot in the Park. Directed by James Phillips, this laugh-a-minute production will keep you in stitches as one of America’s greatest playwrights gives you a witty and amusing slice of newlywed life in 1963.
With rich comedic dialogue Neil Simon crafts a play that is ripe for the taking in regards to pleasing the audience. The five players form a tight-knit bond among them that aids in the impeccable execution of this production giving the audience a sense of professionalism and accomplishment in their abilities to correctly understand Simon’s work. Director James Phillips has made stellar casting choices, each person uniquely fitted to their role in a way that heightens the experience for those watching. Comic timing and vibrant expressions are key elements to this production’s success and the cast demonstrates a firm mastery of these elements, never leaving a punch line to feel forced or a spastic reaction feeling overdone.
Phillips coaxes the perfect pacing from his cast as well. There are several moment throughout the show where the energy on stage is running at the speed of light but the actors take the time to ensure that all of the text is expressed in an intelligible fashion while still portraying the rapid exuberance that the scenes call for. Less anxious and entertaining moments happen at a leisurely pace without ever disrupting the natural flow of the production or dragging it down. You don’t notice the two hours whiz by but you never feel rushed while being caught up in the hilarious hi-jinx of what’s happening on stage.
The Telephone Man (Toby Hessenauer) appears briefly at the beginning of the play and again toward the end but he fits seamlessly into the everyday lifestyle of the Bratter household. With a chummy approach to his character Hessenauer makes the most of his line delivery having a keen sense of comedic timing as well as priceless facial features when responding to some of the more absurd things he hears. His moment of huffing and puffing out of breath shenanigans are humorous without feeling exaggerated and he pulls the focus to his character for his few moments of recognition.
Newlyweds wouldn’t have issues if they didn’t have a mildly meddlesome mother popping into their lives and the Bratters are no exception. Mother Ethel Banks (Lucinda Merry-Browne) is the epitome of a worrisome and slightly melodramatic mommy to her grown daughter that has finally flown the nest. Merry-Browne expulsions of her opinions are both spastically uproarious and well placed as bouts of annoyance to Corie. She carries her airs of eccentricity about her as if they were her security blanket, creating one deeply funny character. Merry-Browne achieves new heights of physical shenanigans in scenes with Victor Velasco as well; an odd couple you won’t want to miss in action.
Velasco (R. Scott Williams) is the epitome of lunacy in this production. Williams digs into this batty character and takes the audience on one hell-of-a ride with his bizarre quirks and zany approach to life. Mastering the notions of egocentric behavior tempered with his flagrant passion for life in general through physical expressivity, Williams gives a stellar performance, making himself the sole focus every time he sets foot in the apartment. With a distinctive accent and facial expressions that will have you laughing so hard you’ll cry, Williams is the dynamic catalyst for many of the more hysterical moments throughout the performance.
Paul Bratter (Brandon McCoy) is the down-to-earth balance for his head in the clouds new wife Corie (Brianna Letourneau). McCoy grounds his character in simple gestures and utilizes the text to its fullest potential when expressing a point or delivering a laugh line. Of all the people who come crashing into the apartment gasping for breath (and that’s everyone except Corie) his moments of collapse and exhaustion are the funniest. His brilliant chemistry with Letourneau is organic; creating the true feeling of nubile bliss between them. The passion is steamy and fresh, their lovey-dovey displays of physical affection throughout the beginning of the production sweet enough to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling in your tummy. And when that chemistry erupts into a volatile storm of tempestuous anger and furious feelings in the second act, both McCoy and Letourneau are equally as engaging in their vehement arguments, making full use of their bodies and voices as tools of blatant emotional expression as they chase each other around the tiny apartment.
Letourneau might as well be a hummingbird the way she flits and zips about the small stage space making it appear much larger than it actually is. Her energy never wanes even when she is subdued and deflated; her physical core maintains active and she exudes that inner burst of brilliance with more subtle mannerisms and tones of voice. Her naiveté and blissful newlywed ignorance is adorable beyond compare. Make no mistake, Letourneau is not simply some flat one-dimensional character made up of fizzy bubbles and happy thoughts. When things get ugly she digs in deep and releases a furious monster of anger, passionate rage and frightful fury echoing wildly across the apartment in a comedic fashion with sharp serious edges.
Compass Rose Theater’s Barefoot in the Park is a sensational all-around production not to be missed if you enjoy a good hearty laugh or two or fifty or more…
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.