Neither the threat of storms nor a persnickety sound system stopped Water Works Theatre Company from staging its opening night performance of “Barefoot in the Park” last Thursday, and what a pleasant evening of outdoor theater it turned out to be!
Known for producing the annual Shakespeare in the Park at Royal Oak’s Starr Jaycee Park for the past several seasons, founder and executive producer Ed Nahhat decided to try something different this year. So rather than sonnets and couplets, theatergoers are treated to a classic American comedy by that OTHER master of English wordplay, Neil Simon. And the box office results, I suspect, will prove his choice a wise one!
The play, set in early 1960s Manhattan, tells the story of newlyweds Paul (Rusty Mewha) and Corie (Morgan Chard) Bratter who move into a tiny, rundown apartment six days after their glorious wedding and honeymoon at the luxurious Plaza Hotel. Sure, it’s five or six flights up without an elevator, there’s a hole in the skylight, the stove doesn’t work properly, the heating system is counterintuitive, her mother hates the place and the neighbors are an odd lot – but love conquers all, correct?
Nope. Not when the perky bride and the stuffy groom are such opposites. So what happens when the pampered, stay-at-home Corie can no longer tolerate the petty problems she encounters during her first week as Mrs. Bratter? Why, she wants a divorce, of course. NOW!
You can almost hear Betty Friedan spinning in her grave, can’t you?
Of course, Simon’s antiquated, pre-feminist storyline reflects the period in which the play was written. And although the comedy probably seemed quite risque when it first hit Broadway in 1963, “Barefoot” today is a dusty, yet still very funny reminder of just how far society has come these past four decades. After all, love never goes out of fashion, does it?
No, and neither does a mostly well-staged and slickly acted comedy. And except for the irritating wireless microphones that kept cutting off throughout the performance, that’s precisely what this production of “Barefoot” is. (I suspect the bugs – the electronic kind, not the winged ones fluttering about the audience – were worked out by the next night.)
With a cutaway set by Kristen Compton nestled among the trees, director Beth Torrey makes great use of the park’s spacious grounds. In particular, exits and entrances simulating the long walks up or down five flights of stairs by movers, mothers and telephone installers are well mined for laughs.
Oddly enough, some of the show’s funniest lines generated little reaction on opening night – caused at various times by questionable directorial choices, unusually flat delivery by Chard and Mewha, and those troublesome microphones.
However, excellent support is provided by Henry Nelson as the Telephone Repair Man, Tobin Hissong as neighbor Victor Velasco and Milica Govich as Corie’s snooty mother, Ethel Banks.
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
‘Barefoot in the Park’
Water Works Theatre Company at Starr Jaycee Park, 1101 W. Thirteen Mile, Royal Oak. Wed.-Sun., through Aug. 12. Tickets: $8-$18. For information: 248-399-3727 or http://www.waterworkstheatre.com.