There’s something about a Neil Simon play that gets to you after the final curtain. A realization bubbles to the surface that, under the comedic foibles of the characters he creates, there’s a truth about the endurance of the human spirit. Despite ourselves, we can bounce back from emotional hardship and see love.
Such is the case with “Barefoot in the Park,” about the adjustment of newlyweds, which today, as likely as not, would be cohabitants. The 1963 play now is running at Las Vegas Little Theatre under the steady hand of director Gillen Brey.
Corie and Paul Bratter (Natalie Piechowski and Michael Blair) are beginning their new life together, trying to find their way among the landmines that are typical of any young couple starting out. They have an ally in Corie’s widowed mother, Mrs. Banks (Cindy Lee Stock) and an interloper of sorts in their upstairs neighbor, Victor Velasco (Daryl Morris).
Corie finds Velasco charming, full of fun and life, introduces him to her mother, compares his freewheeling lust for life to her husband’s staid approach, and later, of course, regrets it all.
Newcomer Piechowski starts the play off at a rapid pace, scurrying with nervous anticipation around the empty fifth-floor walk-up apartment her husband has yet to see. Though her transitions over the course of the play are a tad abrupt, she does an adequate job with the meat of each scene.
Even when he has no lines, Blair takes us along on the roller-coaster ride between common sense and trying to please his new wife.
Through his “stuffed shirt” beginnings to his drunken rant, his every thought and motivation for choices is clear and thoroughly enjoyable. He is so at ease onstage that the connection to character melds without a single visible seam.
Stock delivers a perfectly understated performance. She makes the wise choice to never force the humor and allows the situation to speak for itself. The restraint in meddling in her daughter’s new marriage, the adjustment to empty-nest syndrome, and re-entering the dating scene, is a delight to watch.
The character of Velasco is not so much conman as he is a debonair lover of life. Morris plays him boisterous and over-the-top rather than full of worldly charm, and the humor becomes forced. We wonder why Corie or her mother would find him at all attractive. Only in his final scene does he pull back and become the likable character we wanted to see all along.
Chris Davies and Gary Bagley in the two cameo roles of a telephone repairman and a delivery man, respectively, are both terrific. Davies gives an expressive and reactive comic performance. Without uttering a single word, Bagley takes the proverbial cake with finely tuned physical comedy.
Production values are solid, with one major blunder. From lights up to the moment we leave the building, the greater part of theater is the suspension of disbelief. Even after the curtain call the experience should linger. Crew members rushing onto the stage before the audience cleared destroyed the illusion too soon. But, over all, it’s an enjoyable evening.
One important patron note: Though the program states there will be only one, there is a second short intermission.