Friday, October 06, 2023

Arizona Theatre Company Review: 'Barefoot in the Park'

In the 60 years since Neil Simon's masterpiece "Barefoot in the Park" debuted, what was once a daring modern take on relationships has evolved into a quaint period piece. 

That may sound like a knock, but it's quite the opposite. While the wickedly smart screenplay is still every bit as funny and romantic as it was when it first hit Broadway, the nostalgic, whimsical tone it has taken on since adds layers of reasons to appreciate it.

Director Michael Berresse does Young proud by staying faithful to his original intentions, while subtly playing up its now antiquated properties without making any concessions to a crowd who may or may not remember when manual installation of telephone lines or its more obscure cultural references were applicable.

The play thrives on its two lead performances, which are inhabited by a pair of dynamic treasures. Kyra Kennedy and Tyler Lansing Weaks inhabit young married couple Corie and Paul Bratter with penetrating, joyous charisma. They flirt, bicker, sarcastically snipe against one another and all the while, subtly show why each is smitten with the other.

The Bratters are newlyweds who have moved into a decayed Greenwich Village brownstone. The entirety of the drama swirls around their efforts to meld their disparate personalities into a working relationship in an effort to iron out the kinks of lust and romance into enduring love.

A smattering of periphery characters color, enhance and mute their disagreements. Each is a serial scene-stealer. Gayton Scott plays Corie's meddling mother, Harry Bouvy plays flamboyant upstairs neighbor Victor and Matthew Zimmer is the beleaguered telephone repair man, who idealizes the couple's plight.

Gorgeous, convincing set pieces, subtle musical cues and pitch-perfect line delivery characterize the production, which is top-heavy with laughs and tends to fade in momentum as the third act rolls out. Even the more laborious portions of the play are necessary, though, for the powerful emotional payoff at the climax.

Smiles, giggles and touching moments swirl at the core of the magnificent script, brought to life once again by a cast with a unified heart that beats strongly for the ghost of Neil Simon.

"Barefoot in the Park" plays through Oct. 13 in Tucson and Oct. 20-Nov. 5 in Phoenix. Buy tickets here.

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