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THEATER REVIEW : 'Barefoot' a Tired Romp Through a Boring Park : The director tries to pep everything up in this Newport Harbor Theatre Arts Center revival and the actors do fall into step, though not always as lightly as they could.

April 13, 1994|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEWPORT BEACH — Was being a newlywed ever this tough? Corie and Paul Bratter, the sighing lovebirds-turned-quarreling magpies perched at the center of "Barefoot in the Park," just can't get along now that their honeymoon is history.

She's the carefree, dopey type. He's the starchy, corporate type. Watch out: Big personality conflicts scheduled for high noon! In this early Neil Simon comedy, currently in a barely so-so revival at the Newport Harbor Theatre Arts Center, one-liners about mismatch-misery are thrown around like rice at a wedding.

It's sticky rice, though--all lumpy and overcooked. "Barefoot" may have been fresh when it first was produced, back in 1963 (Hollywood certainly thought so; it did a screen version with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda), but these days it's boringly quaint.

Of course, it never was supposed to be more than a pennyweight romp. But when you realize that one of the Bratters' biggest problems is the exhausting six flights of stairs leading to their apartment, you know you're dealing with triviality on a grand scale.

Paul, always wrapped tight in his business duds, hates the climb; ever-spunky Corie thinks it's invigorating. They grouse about that. Then there's the mother-in-law, who is not a mean sort, just a bit odd. They grouse about her. Then there's the Lothario neighbor that Corie lines up for mom. They grouse about him, and they grouse about the matchmaking.

After a few minutes of this, you're nearly thrilled when they start blathering about divorce. Need a ride to the lawyer? Here, let me hail a cab!

*

Director Gregory Cohen does pretty much the usual with this sort of affair, trying to pep everything up. His actors fall into step, though not always as lightly as they could.

On the up side, Jay Fraley is pleasantly cranky as Paul. He's conservative, all right, but he has a decent heart, and Fraley lets us see that. Sherry Mattson is too shallow as Corie, though. Even with the nonstop animation, all perk and no quirk makes Corie a dull girl.

The most interesting performance is by Art Arnold Peltz as the playful neighbor, Victor. He delivers his lines in a casual, offhanded way and is relatively amusing to watch as he tells unbelievable stories and pretty much worms his way into the dueling couple's life.

\o7 * "Barefoot in the Park," Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Ends May 8. $13. (714) 631-0288. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes. \f7 Sherry Mattson: Corie Bratter

Jay Fraley: Paul Bratter

Art Arnold: Peltz Victor Velasco

Margie Schwartz: Corie's mother

Jeff Sudakov: telephone repairman

Rachel Davenport: delivery person

A Newport Theatre Arts Center production of Neil Simon's comedy, directed by Gregory Cohen. Set by Larry Watts. Lighting by Jane Phillips Hobson. Costumes by Tom Phillips. Sound by Kevin Pedersen. Stage manager: Rachel Davenport.

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