Watching the revival of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” at the Cort Theatre is a fun, refreshing experience that leaves you with a smile on your face. Kind of like, well, a walk in the park.
“Barefoot in the Park” is a romantic comedy set in the 1960’s about a couple of complete opposite young newlyweds living in New York City. On paper, each character is a familiar type. There is the fun-loving, free-spirited wife, and the more practical, business-minded husband, a slightly overbearing, frustrated-with-age mother, a wacky, eccentric neighbor.
Corie Bratter (Amanda Peet, in her first Broadway role), and her husband Paul (two-time Tony nominee Patrick Wilson) have been married six days and just moved into the crappiest apartment in New York City. Located on the top floor, climbing the six flights of stairs (counting the stoop, of course) is a task almost as bad as climbing Mount Everest. There is no heat, no bath and a bedroom with a leaky closet and barely enough room for a bed. There is also a huge sky-light with a hole in it that blows a downward gust of cold winter air onto the unfortunate new tenants.
Corie, in all of her girlish optimism and na√ÉØvete, does not seem to mind at all. She flits around the apartment, channeling the free-spirited, scatter-brained energy of Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
She is determined to turn her very first apartment into the cutest little space possible and is genuinely excited about beginning a new life with her husband. She is the more spontaneous of the two and perhaps even a little flighty, but her quirkiness is what makes her adorable. Peet sparks life into a character that may have otherwise come across as a bit selfish and maybe even a little ditzy.
Paul, an ambitious rookie lawyer, needs a little more convincing about the apartment. From the moment he staggers in the door, out of breath and in disbelief at the number of stairs he had to climb, the audience immediately falls for him. As the play goes on, with each eye-roll and exasperated gesture, Paul has the “what-has-my-wife-gotten-me-into-now” demeanor down perfect.
The second enjoyable fun character to watch is Mrs. Banks, Corie’s mother (Jill Clayburgh) if only for the sheer anticipation to hear what will come out of her mouth next. She appears to dress high-class, but there is no snootiness in her attitude. The exasperation of getting older makes her bitter, but in a sassy way, and her one-liners provoked huge laughs from the audience.
Aside from the likeable characters, other aspects of the play added to its fun and light vibe. Sixties pop tunes were cleverly used to transition between scenes. Before the curtain would go up “Downtown” by Petula Clark would be playing, or “Walk On By” by Dionne Warwick. When the curtain rose the music would die down in the theater and begin projecting from the Bratter’s record player. This incorporated the music in a realistic way and really make it a part of the show.
The clothes also depicted the time period and made the play more realistic. Designed by Isaac Mizrahi, the clothing had a 60’s feel without looking like costumes. The one aspect of the play that does not flow as well is the difference in tones of the first and second acts. The first act has a snappy pace and is full of laughs. The second act proceeded at a much slower pace. “Barefoot in the Park” was at its most enjoyable when the pace was upbeat and the jokes flowed freely.
The original production of “Barefoot in the Park” became an enormous hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1963, making Neil Simon one of America’s most popular playwrights. This time around it holds up just as well. Simon is able to blend the funny, quirky slices of life with universal messages that have real heart.