|Susan Giberson, Jeff Giberson, and Amanda Clark|
By Tina Arth
Beaverton Civic Theatre’s latest is a thoroughly entertaining revival of one of Neil Simon’s earliest plays, 1963’s Barefoot in the Park. While some elements of the show are a bit shopworn, even dated Neil Simon humor is top-notch, and the play still stands as one of the funniest romantic comedies ever staged. Director Doreen Lundberg makes the right choice by presenting the play as a period piece, with attitudes, costumes, and décor appropriate to the era, and all of her cast members fully commit to their early sixties personas.
Newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter have just moved into a tiny top floor brownstone apartment in New York City. Uptight, buttoned-down lawyer Paul seems an unlikely match for the impulsive, flamboyant Corie, and in less than a week they move from passionate young lovers to the edge of divorce as she frenetically tries to loosen him up and he tries to act like an adult in his first real job with a law firm. One wonders if this pair ever dated, or if they just moved from meeting to honeymoon without any of the usual preliminary steps. In addition to working on Paul’s attitudes, Corie is also eager to help her mother, Mrs. Banks, move out of her suburban New Jersey orbit and find a little spontaneous joy – but Corie gets more than she bargained for when her mom hooks up (in the thoroughly modern sense) with their eccentric upstairs neighbor, Mr. Velasco (aka “The Wolf of 48th Street”). Of course, in the end true love triumphs, but along the way the audience is treated to some of playwright Simon’s funniest dialogue and physical humor, delivered with split second comic timing.
There is nothing surprising about Amanda Clark’s superb portrayal of Corie Bratter. Few local actors can pull off wacky better than this funny woman, and Clark gives her all to be sure the audience is charmed, bemused, and amused by her character. BCT newcomer Conner Brown (as Paul Bratter) is Corie’s ideal match – something of a nerd, but with enough mensch-like qualities to make him an attractive counterpart to his flighty bride, and he pulls off his drunk scene with real panache.
Jeff Giberson goes over the top as Victor Velasco, but there’s no other direction for this character to go. He brings a smarmy, cosmopolitan touch to every scene, and somehow manages to make the unimaginable (accessing his rooftop abode through the Bratters’ bedroom window? Feeding them an almost inedible eel appetizer? “Eel. That's why the time element is so essential. Eel spoils quickly”) seem perfectly normal for civilized sophisticates of his ilk.
It is Susan Giberson (as Mrs. Banks) who sets the bar highest in this production, while calmly stealing every scene in which she appears. She manages to capture the character’s contradictions – superficially fragile, cast by her daughter as the archetypal meddling mom, yet resilient, loving, wise, and the ultimate good sport. Her timing is spectacular, and the performance is alternatively nuanced and broad.
Mention must be made of one theatrical newcomer, Dwayne Thurnau. In his role as the telephone man, he is only on stage twice, for maybe a total of 10 minutes, usually hidden away in a corner quietly doing telephone-guy stuff. However, Thurnau turns this small role into a real jewel as he comments on the activity around him using his face and the occasional tidbit of New York style folksy wisdom.
Director Lundberg’s pacing is swift, but not rushed, so none of Simon’s non-stop witty lines are lost in the fray. The three acts and two intermissions fly by, propelled by frequent bursts of laughter from an appreciative audience. Many of the remaining performances will undoubtedly sell out, so buy your tickets early if possible – this Barefoot provides a lovely few hours of escape from electronic media!
Barefoot in the Park runs through Saturday, March 11th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium, 12375 SW Fifth Street, Beaverton, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.