Kerry Bishe and Chris Lowell in "Barefoot in the Park." Photo by Jim Cox
Were newlyweds ever as cute as they are in Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park? Beginning a new life together in an impossibly impractical apartment in New York and subsisting on hugs and kisses is pretty much the entire premise of Simon’s 1963 comedy. By the standards of today, when relationships, much less marriage, are as complicated as Pythagorean identities, Barefoot in the Park feels sugar-sweet, even naïve. The trick is to forget about reality and just enjoy the sweetness and naivete. The Old Globe’s new production of Barefoot in the Park makes it easy.
Start with a uniformly talented cast. Kerry Bishe conveys all of the over-the-top giddiness about life and love inside Corie Bratter, the new bride who believes everything is so wonderful that even sleeping in a closet turned “bedroom” is no inconvenience. Better still is Chris Lowell as her understandably beleaguered (and a little overwhelmed) new husband, Paul. As disarming as Bishe and Lowell are in the first act of the play, when the conflict is mostly about the haplessness of the tiny brownstone apartment, they’re twice as much fun in the argument scenes later. There’s never any doubt that the Bratters will work things out, but until they do their back-and-forth barbs can be enjoyed guilt-free. Simon’s wittiest writing is heard in Corie’s and Paul’s quips and benign sarcasm.
The playwright conceived meaty supporting roles for this snappy comedy. As Corie’s timid but lovable mother, Mia Dillon gently plays off the exuberance of Bishe as well as that of Jere Burns as neighbor Victor Velasco, “the Bluebeard of 48th Street.” His is the most broadly drawn character in the play, but he mostly reigns in what could have been a cartoon part.
Director Jessica Stone was intuitive enough to craft a Barefoot in the Park that skips along, never trying to be weighty or relevant. Her ensemble’s comic timing is tight, and the otherwise breezy rhythm of the show is hindered only by the apparent necessity of two intermissions.
The retro music sprinkled into the action and the animated unveiling of the Bratters’ furniture when it first appears add to the enchantment of the goings-on. If only love were as magically achieved. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 8/8/18.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.