Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Broadway Rose’s ExtraOrdinary Days

By Tina Arth

I was utterly unprepared for the impact of Broadway Rose’s production of Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days. What little I knew about the show left me expecting a muddled tale four oddly paired, shallow millennials seeking what passes for meaning in modern-day NYC, punctuated by a series of self-absorbed and often irrelevant songs. Saying my expectations were off the mark would be gross understatement. What I saw was a beautiful, intensely moving (and often hilarious) show as relevant to an aging West Coast hippie chick as it was to the sophisticated big city theater fiends who comprised its early audiences when it made its 2009 New York debut.

In about 90 minutes, the show’s 20 songs tell a story of Warren, Deb, Claire, and Jason – four people searching for meaningful lives and connections while navigating the complex culture of post-911 New York City. Claire and Jason are a couple, but their attempt to co-habit leads to a host of problems as they try to cram their combined physical and emotional baggage into a small apartment. Deb comes from a modest, confining background and has fallen into a graduate program in her search for a larger world, but she’s frantically going through the motions of writing her thesis on Sylvia Plath with no real sense of purpose. Warren is an earnest nebbish – an aspiring artist cat-sitting for his mentor, who is serving a sentence for sharing his philosophy through unauthorized tagging (apparently, one person’s art is another person’s graffiti). The almost invisible Warren, who picks up abandoned junk from city streets while offering his and his mentor’s “art” (a series of sweet, helpful maxims) to the passing horde, finds Deb’s mislaid thesis notes. The two awkwardly connect – he has visions of a platonic Kismet, she’s just annoyed (and stunningly ungrateful!). In one of those miracles that only make sense in musicals, Warren and Deb find common ground, and while they never actually meet Jason and Claire, they end up having a profound effect on their lives. The poignant and beautiful revelations at the end left me, and much of the audience, near (or in) tears – exactly what I wanted, as it lifts the show from rom-com to art.

There is nothing ordinary about Quinlan Fitzgerald (Deb), Seth M. Renne (Warren), Kailey Rhodes (Claire), and Benjamin Tissell (Jason). Ably supported by musical director/pianist Eric Nordin, each actor creates a memorable character, and each is able to take full advantage of several beautiful opportunities to shine. The characters played by the women are initially sufficiently difficult that our sympathies naturally migrate to the men. Fitzgerald’s cynicism and Rhodes’ bursts of anger are unpredictably fierce at times, but as the tale unfolds the two women allow us to empathize with their disaffection. Fitzgerald’s “Beautiful” and Rhodes’ “I’ll Be Here” reveal their evolution, and we ultimately celebrate the insight and healing that they find.  Tissell’s performance is a subtle treat – his vocals evoke the sincerity of a man who has truly found “the one” and doesn’t know how to keep her. Renne is just fabulous – goofy, naïve, persistent, so oblivious to the negativity around him that he is able to transform his little corner of the world.

Director Isaac Lamb has given what could be seen as a “little” show all of the sensitivity and perception needed to present a pointillist tale of how meaning can be found in the seemingly trivial, ordinary events of Ordinary Days.

Ordinary Days is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, October 14th.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Outer Space Mikado of Planet Pitiyu Stops By Planet Earth

 Sheryl Wood, Lindsey Lefler, and Mandee Light

By Tina Arth

Light Opera of Portland (LOoP) made a tough decision this year – the local group has performed much of the canon of Gilbert & Sullivan over the past several years, and it was difficult to imagine them slighting the duo’s wildly successful 1885 comic opera The Mikado. However, The Mikado has become controversial in recent years, as the show’s inherent (if unintentional, by standards of the time) racism has been acknowledged by the broader community. The cultural and ethnic insensitivity of the show has been exacerbated by a long history of offensively stereotypical productions – typically including all white casts wearing yellow makeup, long pigtails, even exaggerated eye makeup to simulate “slanted” (Asian-looking) eyes. Like many other modern companies, LOoP has opted to re-set the show far from Japan, and to remove allusions to Japanese culture from the dialogue, music, costuming, and sets. LOoP took it a step further, by removing the story to a different planet. Hence, The Mikado, or the Town of Tipiyu has become The Outer Space Mikado of Planet Pitiyu.

If you are not already a Gilbert & Sullivan fan, do not expect the show to make sense – just read the synopsis below, then sit back and enjoy the witty songs and absurd conundrums that plague the inhabitants of the isolated (and very humid) Pitiyu.  The planet’s feudal structure includes the Emperor, the Lord High Executioner (Co-Co, who has never performed an execution), and the Lord High of Everything Else (Pooh-Bah), plus an assortment of nobles, wards, and attendants. Co-Co is determined to marry one of his young wards, Yum-Yum, but she is enamored of an itinerant musician named Nanky-Pu. Nanky-Pu admits to Yum-Yum that he is actually the Emperor’s son, but fled in disguise rather than marry the enamored, elderly Catischa. Tired of his ineffectual executioner, the Emperor decrees that Co-Co must behead someone within 30 days or be executed himself. Co-Co essays to save his own life and rid himself of a rival by executing Nanky-Pu, but then agrees to allow Yum-Yum and Nanky-Pu to marry and live in connubial bliss for 30 days before the groom is beheaded. Co-Co discovers he is utterly unable to actually kill anyone, so he sends Yum-Yum and Nanky-Pu away and, with the assistance of Pooh-Bah, convinces the Emperor that he has executed Nanky-Pu.  When the Emperor learns that Nanky-Pu is actually his long-lost son, he is enraged, but Co-Co’s life is saved when Nanky-Pu and his bride return, obviously in excellent health. Co-Co reluctantly agrees to marry the now lovelorn Catischa, and the unlikely pair discovers that they have a lot in common.  Everyone is very, very happy, we applaud, and meet the cast in the lobby before wandering over to the ice cream parlor for a little post-theatre indulgence.

The LOoP production is literally littered with high points. The tiny orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Linda Smith, is perfectly suited to the scale and tone of the production. Lucy Tait’s costumes are simply marvelous – bright, colorful, flowing, and awash with extraterrestrial style. The set is studded with wildly alien flower and mushroom shapes, lit to create almost an underwater aura. Leads and chorus members have all mastered the fine art of snapping Spanish fans to accentuate their moods and ward off Pitiyu’s relentless humidity. Both men’s and women’s vocal ensembles are in perfect harmony; when the full company sings the power is stunning.

That said, the show’s real stars are, well, the stars. As Yum-Yum, Lindsey Lefler’s exquisite soprano sets a high bar, but Sheryl Wood and Mandee Light are not far behind.  Tenor Tom Hamann (Nanky-Pu) and baritone Laurence Cox (Pooh-Bah) help to anchor the men’s chorus, and Cox’s unbelievable sneer is a constant delight. The surprise standout for me, however, is Carl Dahlquist (Co-Co) – for both the power of his voice and his amazing comic chops. By Act 2, I was cackling so enthusiastically that I would have been embarrassed had my neighbors not been just as loud.

LOoP’s innovative Mikado is long – almost three hours including intermission – but it never drags, and I was unaware of the passage of time until the final bows. There are only five more opportunities to see this carefully crafted revision that showcases the fabled Gilbert & Sullivan wit while deleting hurtful stereotypes, so I recommend that you work it into your plans for next weekend.

LOoP’s The Outer Space Mikado of Planet Pitiyu is playing at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (September 27-28-29) and 2:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (September 29-30) at the Alpenrose Opera House, 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.

Lakewood Takes a Fresh Look at Pippin

Jessica Tidd, Kelly Sina, Theo Curl, Paul Harestad, Joan Freed, 
Stephanie Heuston, and Dan Murphy

By Tina Arth

Beneath the dazzling costumes, brilliant choreography, and winning pop score in Lakewood Theatre Company’s current production of Pippin lurks an ambitious, rewardingly thought-provoking allegory about nothing less than the meaning of life - and it works! My favorite kind of show is one where I enjoy myself in the moment, but walk out contemplating a rich menu of themes and interpretations; while I saw the show a few times many years ago, Steven Schwartz and Roger Hirson’s 1972 musical play within a play never triggered this reaction in me before. Director Paul Angelo, his production team, and cast captured my attention in the moment and beyond, and it was a revelation to see so much more in the show than I have seen before.

Part of the shift in my attitude comes from a small change added in the late ‘90s, well after the last time I saw the show – what is known (thanks, Google!) as “The Theo Ending.” Without going into detail that might give away too  much, I will just say that this Pippin always ended with a hefty dose of The Wizard of Oz, but now has an added dash of Camelot that was quite unexpected and casts the whole evening in a new light.
The show is a play within a play, where a group of traveling actors (appropriately led by the Leading Actor) presents the tale of Pippin, a son of Charlemagne who has been raised to believe that he is exceptional, and who goes out into the world seeking his glorious destiny. (As I write, yet another revelation – Pippin may have been “born” as a baby boomer, but he is in many ways a millennial!) He tries to find meaning and happiness on the battlefield, through sensual excess, and in the high drama of political intrigue, but all to no avail. The disheartened prince is taken in by Catherine, a widow in need of a man about the place to manage her estate and help raise her son, Theo. Pippin gradually slips into the routine of domestic life, then flees in dismay when he sees how very ordinary his life has become. As the Leading Player loses control of her troupe, the line between play and play-within-a-play gets blurred, giving more power to the allegorical nature of the story.
Jessica Tidd’s long, sinuously flexible body, powerful voice and unshakeable confidence give the Leading Player a captivating mixture of charm and menace that evokes Joel Grey in Cabaret. She is a directorial dominatrix who tolerates no theatrical monkey business  – she snaps like a whip at the least sign of rebellion, using a quick and venomous tongue to keep the rest of the cast in line.
Audience favorite (at least in my row) Dan Murphy as a befuddled and thoroughly cowed Charlemagne is just plain fun, and his jolly delivery of “War is a Science” stands out in a show filled with snappy tunes. And then there’s Stephanie Heuston as Charlemagne’s second wife, Fastrada. Heuston is probably a lovely woman in real life, but on stage she creates the seductive, manipulative stepmother of nightmares, and her “Spread a Little Sunshine” provides another show highlight. With Fastrada as Pippin’s wicked stepmother, of course we get her son Lewis as all three of Cinderella’s stepsisters rolled into one sneering, bullying, singing, dancing package of evil, and Erik Montague plays it to the hilt.
One of the most enduring numbers from Pippin is the snappy pop tune “No Time at All” delivered by Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe (Joan Freed). Freed gives her “Berthe” a feisty, free-spirited buoyance that belies granny stereotypes – when she belts out “it’s time to start living” she clearly reminds us that life ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and even the Leading Player’s taunts cannot quench her spirit.
The two most important roles are the widow Catherine (Kelly Sina) and, of course, Pippin (Paul Harestad). Both actors play it just right – so modest and self-effacing when compared to the razzle-dazzle flamboyance of the rest of the cast that we initially underestimate them, and only gradually realize that they are the real story. Harestad’s performance is perfect – seemingly a bit naïve and self-effacing, he holds back his full power so that his singing and dancing quietly fill the demands of the role. Sina’s performance is subtle, too, but in a more mature way that demands our attention when she is on stage.  Her vocals with Harestad, like “Love Song,” are especially compelling, and I really loved the adult resignation in her delivery of “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man.” Theo Curl (as Theo) captures the essence of a young boy (which, conveniently, he is) – sometimes spoiled, whiny, demanding – a kid you, like Pippin, have to learn to love – but also a kid who earns the significance of “The Theo Ending.”
It’s quite possible to love this show without digging into its gentler themes – the overall production is every bit as extraordinary as the life Pippin thinks he wants. The set is sparse and flexible, just what’s needed for a traveling troupe, but Erin Shannon’s often-acrobatic choreography is over-the-top dazzling, and Pippin offers unquestionably the best dancers I’ve seen in years. Music director Valery Saul’s work with the vocal ensemble does full justice to the rich score, and the orchestra is not only flawless, but also a lot of fun to watch. Finally, Signe Larsen’s makeup design and Melissa Heller’s costumes add immeasurably to the carnival atmosphere that forms this show’s flamboyantly spectacular exoskeleton.
Pippin is playing at the Lake Oswego’s Lakewood Center for the Arts through Sunday, October 14th.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tony & Tina & Mask & Mirror

Erin Bickler and Steve Horton

By Tina Arth

How does one review a show when, due to its interactive design, it will never be the same twice – especially a show with no real purpose other than just to provide a fun evening? The answer is simple – success for such a show is that everyone is completely engaged and has a good time. By that standard, Mask & Mirror’s Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding is a runaway success. This is a show that (audience aside) really takes a village, and Directors Gary Romans and Kathryn Stevens have harnessed a huge cast plus tons of community support to bring it to a public so eager that all eight performances sold out well before the show’s opening!

Imagine that you are a guest at a big working-class Catholic Italian family wedding – with all of the interfamilial drama this might entail (especially if all of the men in the wedding party had been arrested for drunk in public, and there’s only enough money available to bail out the groom and best man). Start in the chapel, where an unsuspecting male audience member is drafted to walk the bride down the aisle, a very gregarious nun remembers you from your teaching days at St. Ignatius, and we are all given the lyrics for a sing-along version of the spiritual hymn, One Tin Soldier (many of us in the audience/pews were old enough to remember this gem from its 1960’s folk-rock origins). A heavily made-up woman in a scandalously short leopard print dress with scandalously long legs does a pitch-perfect a cappella aria (she even brings her own pitch pipe). After innumerable mishaps, the wedding ceremony concludes and we retire to the church reception hall for an elegant catered reception (starting with spray on cheez and Ritz crackers, still clad in their elegant waxed-paper sleeves).  The show goes on with singing, dancing, feasting at our assigned tables (with a few cast members sprinkled around to keep the illusion going) as the bride, groom, in-laws, nun, priest, and an assortment of odd relatives help us to forget that we are at a performance, not a real wedding. Even non-dancers like me get involved by doing the chicken dance from our chairs as braver audience folk career around the dance floor with each other and the cast. Bottom line? It’s really fun!

As groom and bride Tony and Tina, Les Ico and Erin Bickler create and maintain their characters with panache. Bickler’s accent, volume, and strident voice tell us all we need to know about this Bridezilla, and Ico maintains the cheerful calm that Tony needs to put up with Tina and her eccentric clan (not that his is much better!). My personal favorites were Steve Horton (as the ancient but still horny Uncle Lui) and Gabrielle Widman as Maddy, the feline soprano stripper/escort who scandalizes the rest of the “family” – a fabulous combination of diva and floozy. Ted Schroeder’s bandana-clad ex-boyfriend is a hoot, and although I couldn’t see everything going on at the reception, I certainly could not miss the touching (literally) moment when he kisses, then gropes, the bride. I cannot possible do justice to the many exquisitely tacky moments delivered by the enormous cast – it’s just one of those situations where you have to be there!

Fortunately (for Mask & Mirror), as mentioned before, all eight performances sold out before opening night, so there’s no point in my exhorting you to rush out and buy tickets. Congratulations to the directors, cast, musicians, and sponsors who pooled their talents to pull off this odd extravaganza.

Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding runs through Sunday, September 30th at the Tigard United Methodist Church, 9845 SW Walnut Place, Tigard.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Private Eyes – Trust Me, You’ll Like It

Conor J. Nolan, Danyelle Tinker, and Jay HashPhoto by Alicia Turvin

By Tina Arth

If there is one single theme underpinning Private Eyes, Steven Dietz’s enigmatic onion of a play within a play within a play currently being presented by Twilight Theater Company, it is this: do not believe that you see and what you hear (where have I heard that before?) – deceit lurks everywhere, and it’s tough to separate actual from alternative facts. Taken to its logical extreme, that means that you should not trust this review.  Logical extremes be damned – truly, I would not lie to you!

The story? Well, it’s complicated, and courtesy of Dietz’s wit and the actors’ delivery, surprisingly funny. Taken at the most literal level, a husband and wife (Matthew and Lisa) are rehearsing a play under the direction of Adrian. Adrian has seduced Lisa, and the two are having a none-too-well hidden affair right under Matthew’s nose. Matthew entertains rather elaborate fantasies about revenge, some of which are shared with Frank, his therapist. Matthew meets Cory, Adrian’s estranged wife, who has been playing lots of spy tricks to hunt down her runaway spouse. Turns out Adrian does not really love Lisa, and the foursome scatters, but Lisa and Matthew meet again years later and admit (to themselves and the other) that they are still in love.  

The author has scattered this relatively straightforward exposition with a series of plot wrinkles that keep the audience guessing. The uncertainty is enhanced by the non-linear story telling – the play moves from middle to end to beginning with dizzying frequency. At several points, we think we are watching the “real” play (as in, the theoretically true story line) only to discover that the action is either happening in the actor’s imagination or that the whole scene is a play within a play. Director Paul Roder and his cast do a brilliant job of keeping us guessing throughout, and when I left the theater I still was not sure which of the play’s “realities” was the real one (undoubtedly exactly what the author intended). There are small tells throughout, like an odd bit of blocking or a bit of overt surrealism, that serve as warnings that things are not as they seem – but there is no point where one can confidently say “Aha! Now I get it!”

Therapist Frank (Alicia Turvin) is the closest thing to a guide through the morass – she sometimes directly addresses the audience, and we may be meant to take her for a reliable narrator – until the end, when we cannot. Turvin has mastered that soothing therapist-mode where even the most outrageous things seem plausible (one of her patients succumbed to infidelity because of the Earth’s curvature?), and her theory that infidelity comes from accidentally crossing the line between fantasy and reality fits beautifully within the broader structure of the play. Rachel Roscoe wears several guises as Adrian’s wife Cory – waitress, private eye, writer, woman wronged – and she carries off her sometimes-outlandish personas with flair. I especially loved her weirdly detached waitress; as an expression of one of Matthew’s fantasies, she is freed from the need to even try for realism, and she embraces the absurdity with utter comic abandon.

As British director Adrian Poynter, Jay Hash is deliciously unlovable – cynical, manipulative, amoral and cowardly no matter which version of “reality” is in play. If, as Adrian says in the script, “directors are paid to be assholes,” then Hash succeeds in convincing us that his character is born to direct.

The most nuanced figures in the play are Matthew (Conor J. Nolan) and Lisa (Danyelle Tinker). Despite his rather antisocial revenge fantasies, Matthew is the most likeable character, and Nolan’s performance elicits sympathy even when he is behaving badly (or fantasizing about it?). He projects a kind of worried puppy cuteness and naiveté that leaves us unprepared for the possibility that he may be the story’s real mastermind – precisely the effect that is needed to keep us on our toes. Tinker ‘s “Lisa” is also multifaceted – she projects intelligence, and even occasional flashes of integrity despite her apparent adultery. Tinker gives the role just enough sincerity that we cannot help but wonder how she could betray Matthew for a slime ball like Adrian – the answer may be unbridled passion, or it may be simply the demands of a role she is playing.

Twilight has a reputation for doing edgy and unusual material, and Private Eyes fits beautifully into this mold – puzzling, often hilarious, ultimately thought-provoking, and well worth your time.

Twilight Theater Company’s Private Eyes is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, September 23, with performances at 8 P.M. on September 14, 15, 20, 21, and 22 and 3:00 P.M. on September 16 and 23.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Virginia Kincaid, Sandee Cnossen, and Patti Speight

By Tina Arth

In September 2016, I thoroughly enjoyed the STAGES benefit production of Tea For Three - Lady Bird, Pat and Betty – in fact, in my review I mentioned that the show deserved much more than its three-night run. In light of the presidential election less than two months later and subsequent events, the play has taken on a whole new dimension, and I am delighted to see it back (again for three nights only) this weekend. Even though it’s the same script, with the same cast, I strongly encourage you to see it again (and if you missed it in 2016, then by all means don’t make the same mistake twice!).  (A brief confession – parts of this review are lifted verbatim from my 2016 posting.)

STAGES production manager Cindy Wilkins, vocal director Angela Reiswig, the remarkable three-woman cast, and a new group of amazingly talented young vocalists present a truly eye-opening experience with this tale of three of the United States’ memorable first ladies. In September 2016, we thought we were on the verge of something that would have been unimaginable to Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Betty Ford – the election of the first woman president. Although things didn’t quire work out that way, the September before the 2018 midterm elections is a great time to reflect on past presidents and their wives, and the wave of woman now running for office at all levels throughout the land.

The structure of the play is simple and clever. Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford are each given 30+ minutes of uninterrupted stage time. Two years ago, the play sporadically lapsed into brief bouts of chaos in the form of student protesters. This year, the protesters have been replaced by a stunningly talented vocal group, A7, who begin the show and fill the space between the three monologues with ‘60s/’70’s pop songs, fitting reminders of the era (and a great way to fill time as props are changed for each first lady). Lady Bird’s segment begins with the Kennedy assassination and ends by preparing to give her successor, Pat Nixon, a tour of the White House and an introduction to the complex and undervalued role of First Lady. Pat Nixon’s turn concludes after the Watergate affair as she prepares, following Dick Nixon’s resignation, to give Betty Ford the same tour.  The final scene with Betty Ford adds perspective, clearly illustrating not only the sociological gap between these three women but also the historical turning points encapsulated in their White House terms. As a “woman of a certain age” whose adolescence and early twenties coincided with the show’s events, I was reminded of so many moments that I had forgotten – but also given insight into the challenges and heartache that go hand in hand with the position of First Lady in any era.

The three principal actors bring the show to life with riveting authenticity. Texas native Virginia Kincaid (Lady Bird Johnson) nails the Texas accent, of course, but beyond that she delivers the mixture of insecurity, self-effacement, grace, and iron will that somehow coexisted in LBJ’s loyal helpmate. Sandee Cnossen (Pat Nixon) perhaps has the toughest role, playing a shy First Lady who lived in the background throughout much of her husband’s tumultuous career.  Cnossen projects a quiet dignity, as well as intense loneliness – it’s more than a little heartbreaking when she shoves away the dinner delivered to her room, because it’s just too sad eating dinner alone in the White House dining room while her husband eats in his study. She grabs us with a phone conversation – clearly the highlight of her day – with one of with the Secret Service “boys” who not only protected her, but also provided her with real friendship that was so lacking in her relationship with her husband. As the high-spirited Betty Ford, both reveling and trapped in the cycle of substance abuse, Patti Speight gets to have a little more fun. This is a segment that feels much more meaningful in light of the attention now being paid to (and the lack of any real leadership in dealing with) the epidemic of opioid abuse. Unlike her predecessors, Speight is definitely not drinking tea throughout her time onstage, and as the vodka and pills take hold her carriage and speech become gradually looser and more flamboyant. Speight walks a fine line, and (like Betty Ford) she carefully treads on the edge without becoming openly inebriated.

Special mention must be made of Animaté Voice Studio students Will Armory, Vivian Lang, Krista Reiswig, and Marty Margolin (together, A7). I’d love to see a full concert performance by these spectacular young singers!

Tea For Three is well worth a couple of hours of your life, and the fact that it benefits a wonderful youth theater program is an added bonus. I hope that the three performances all sell out – the evening will give you something to chew on long after the lights go up.

The STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy benefit production of Tea For Three runs through Sunday, September 16th at The Vault, 350 E. Main Street, Hillsboro with performances at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday and 2:00 on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Barefoot in the HART

Beth Self and Rachel Roberts
By Tina Arth

Neil Simon’s passing on August 26th created a moment of nostalgia for American theater audiences, suddenly eager for another taste of the playwright’s comedic brilliance. HART Theatre serendipitously met this demand just two weeks later with the opening of Barefoot in the Park, one of Simon’s earliest, most successful, and best-loved romantic comedies. The show runs until September 23d, so there is still a bit of time to catch this sweet, funny little gem.

Barefoot is set in the early 1960s, and tells the story of newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter, just moving into a tiny 5th floor apartment (no elevator, of course) in a New York City brownstone. Just over a week into their marriage, the naïve, free-spirited Corie decides that she and her button-down, conventional young lawyer husband have nothing in common – their first real argument goes very, very badly and before they know it divorce is on the table. With the help of Corie’s rather odd mother, Ethyl Banks, and an even odder neighbor, the mysterious and exotic Victor Velasco, everything works out OK in the end – a classic Neil Simon mash up of external cynicism and internal romanticism, where eccentricity somehow provides a meandering path to traditional marital bliss.

One secret to a successful Barefoot is the casting, and HART’s folk made the brilliant decision to cast two real newlyweds, Rachel and Andy Roberts, as Corie and Paul. Aside from the Roberts pair’s considerable acting chops, the “awww” factor is heightened by the fact that Rachel and Andy first met several years ago as ingénue leads in HART’s production of Anything Goes. By the time the audience got through the cast bios they were solidly rooting for both the real life and stage couple, and we were not disappointed by what Director Aaron Morrow calls “that crazy, wonderful chemistry.” Rachel takes “cute” to new heights, and reveals that she is when necessary a world-class pouter and shouter. Andy creates for his character a rigid, uptight diction and bearing that make his efforts to find a comfortable marital common ground touchingly pathetic – we cannot help but empathize with his confusion about how to please his maddeningly lovable bride.

The other key “couple” is Velasco (Johnnie Torres) and Banks (Beth Self). Torres is as good a Velasco as I have seen – a curious combination of sincerity, worldliness, poverty, and gallantry with just enough sliminess to make it all very, very funny as he flits and oozes around the stage. Self’s take on Ethyl is a bit more bewildered and slapstick than some, but she’s very entertaining and the audience really responds to her wacky delivery – in other words, it works! Rounding out the cast are Mark Ferris and Mark Putnam, trading roles as the telephone man and the delivery man. The two consistently make the most of their exhaustion after climbing all those stairs, and at the end of Act I when they are doing the scene change they are so entertaining that much of the audience stays to watch their performance even after the houselights go up (a serious error, as it means missing out on the fresh-baked intermission cookies).

The playwright’s death may have played a role in filling seats at opening weekend, but the quality of the acting should ensure that there will be good houses for the remainder of the show’s run.

Barefoot in the Park runs through Sunday, September 23d with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays at HART Theater, 185 S.E. Washington, Hillsboro.