‘Barefoot’: Three sweet and lovely acts
It’s not uncommon for us to see in others the very qualities we ourselves lack. So someone who’s shy might fall in love with someone incurably social and outgoing. A free spirit might admire someone with more organization and structure, and vice versa.
Just like unlike poles on magnets, opposites are irresistibly drawn to each other.
But sometimes, after a while, we look at the other person and wonder why they aren’t more like us.
This is what happens in “Barefoot in the Park,” playing at the Sugden Community Theatre through Feb. 2.
Corie (Tiffany Clementi) and Paul (Michael Santos) are head-over-heels in love, almost sickeningly so. After six days at the Plaza for their honeymoon, they’ve moved into their first apartment together. When the play opens, the furniture hasn’t even arrived yet.
Like the first homes of many newly married couples, it’s not ideal: It’s small, on the top floor of a five-flight walk-up (six, if you count the stoop), lacks decent closet space and a tub, and comes with crazy neighbors.
Corie and Paul can’t keep their hands off of each other — until, one night, they have a disagreement. They argue. They think it’s the end of the world and the end of their marriage.
She’s upset because her lawyer husband isn’t more a free spirit. He’s not the type to jump in puddles on purpose or go barefoot in the park.
He’s upset because she isn’t as serious and responsible as he’d like her to be. (Plus, she insulted him by calling him a stuffed shirt.)
This Neil Simon chestnut is a lighthearted look at both the wonders and struggles that occur during that first year of marriage. It premiered on Broadway in 1963 with Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley as Paul and Corie; in 1967 it was made into a movie starring Mr. Redford and Jane Fonda. I’m willing to bet most of the audience at the Sugden was familiar with the movie, but that didn’t prevent them from laughing at the jokes.
Mr. Simon gives us funny people, funny situations and terrific one-liners sprinkled throughout. There’s a running gag about the five flights everyone has to climb to get to the apartment; actors generated guaranteed laughter every time they staggered through the front door, gasping for breath.
Ms. Clementi, making her debut at the Sugden, gives us a vivacious and funloving Corie, full of spark and very playful. Mr. Santos is measured and reasonable, all business. They make such a believable couple — and highly believable newlyweds — that sometimes you feel perhaps you should slink out of the theater and leave the two alone together onstage.
Scenic designer Todd Potter has given them a very realistic New York apartment on the top floor of a midtown brownstone. There’s a radiator, a skylight (with broken window panes) and a set of five locks on the front door.
More than young love
While Corie and Paul make a nice couple in this sweet, funny play, however, it’s two older actors who basically steal the show.
Val Kuffel plays the newlyweds’ quirky neighbor, Victor Velasco. A world traveler and romantic, he’s Corie’s kindred spirit. (There’s a great scene where the two of them have had too much to drink.)
Victor is such a charmer that you initially wonder how much is true and how much is con. He talks big, but he’s behind in the rent and is obviously down on his luck. Mr. Kuffel plays him as a largerthan life character, but imbues him with humanity.
Diane Davis plays Corie’s mother, Mrs. Banks, a woman who lives alone in New Jersey. Ms. Davis has such a dry wit and wry delivery that she was born for roles like this. She possesses impeccable comedic instincts and timing and knows how to get a laugh out of a line or a simple facial expression.
She’s supposed to be a nuisance and a busy-body, but Ms. Davis plays her as a more sympathetic character.
Chris Goutman makes his directorial debut at the Sugden with “Barefoot in the Park,” although he comes to Naples with both stage and television producing and directing experience (he has won four Emmys and received 13 Emmy nominations for his work). He’s also acted in television, film and theater, including working at Circle Rep, Manhattan Theatre Club and the Roundabout Theatre.
His vast experience shows onstage, as this is a top-notch production. Even the two minor roles (Andrew Ciliberto as a telephone repairman and Frank Cardone as a delivery man) sparkle and feel natural. I hope we see more productions under his direction.
Costume designer Ulla Doose does a fine job dressing the cast to reflect the 1963 setting. I coveted the gorgeous copper and black frock Ms. Clementi wears in Act II.
This is a period piece; telephone numbers have words instead of numerical prefixes, and there are mentions of Schwab’s, Princess phones, Toni Home Permanents and Polaroids. Mrs. Banks also advises her daughter that the key to a good marriage is to “take care of him” and “make him feel important.” (This is the early ’60s, after all, and the play was written by a man.)
Three acts combine for a sweet and adorable piece of fluff — cotton candy, really. But the laughs are steady and continuous, and the cast and director have a real feel — an an obvious love — for the material. ¦