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'Barefoot in the Park' Treads Lightly if a Bit Slowly

September 18, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WESTMINSTER — A few years ago it was revealed that playwright Neil Simon pulls in around $200,000 a month from royalties on amateur productions of his plays. "Barefoot in the Park" is one of the early Simon classics that shows why. It's tightly crafted, about as heavy as a shot glass of ouzo and can be very funny indeed.

The plot concerns newlyweds Paul and Corie Bratter. Following their six-day honeymoon at Manhattan's Plaza Hotel, they are moving into a one-room, five-flight walk-up apartment. The flat is small, and far from the comfort of the Plaza. Corie goes so far as to turn a tiny dressing room into their bedroom.

Unannounced, and too soon, Corie's mother, Ethel, arrives. What could be better, Corie thinks, than to introduce Ethel, an uncomplicated widow from New Jersey, to the flamboyant Victor Velasco, who lives upstairs in an attic, which he sometimes enters through Corie's bedroom. That's the plot, and the denouement is just as simplistic.

Like all comedy, the important thing with Simon is to play it dead earnest, and that's exactly what director Joel Ray Ibanez has done in his directorial debut at the Westminster Community Theatre.

He's starting off on the right foot, realizing that to add funny to Simon's already funny is a waste of time. His one slip is allowing Bill Forant, as Paul, to play drunk at one point in low-comedy disarray, shirttail out, collar up and tie askew. It's a cliche, with no precedent in the play.

Ibanez's rhythms are solid throughout, and he maintains a feeling of lightness that keeps the laughs coming. There could be more laughs, though, if his tempos were crisper. A number of significant pauses slow things down, but not enough to do much damage.

His cast is excellent. Forant has a strong comic sense and a stylish delivery. Laura D. Knapp keeps pace as Corie, and both have developed rounded and natural characterizations. Patricia A. Miller's Ethel is charming. It's a role that an unwary actress can make disagreeable, but Miller's effervescence prevents that.

*

As the upstairs Lothario, Bradley Miller blessedly underplays Velasco with very funny results, underscoring the pointlessness of added sight gags. Dan Henry and Channing Boyer get laughs as the telephone and delivery men who gasp their way up the five flights to service the apartment.

Ibanez designed the set with assistant director Juliette Wozniak, and it's too sizable for any New York walk-up. They use the entire stage area, when the back wall should have been brought closer to the audience. They could have created a more cramped look that would reinforce the dialogue.

* "Barefoot in the Park," Westminster Community Playhouse, 7272 Maple St. Friday-Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Ends Sept. 28. $12. (714) 527-5546. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

"Barefoot in the Park,"

Laura D. Knapp: Corie Bratter

Bill Forant: Paul Bratter

Patricia A. Miller: Mrs. Ethel Banks

Bradley Miller: Victor Velasco

Dan Henry: Telephone Repair Man

Channing Boyer: Delivery Man

A Westminster Community Playhouse production of Neil Simon's comedy. Produced by Sandi Newcomb and Jeff Crumley. Directed by Joel Ray Ibanez. Assistant director: Juliette Wozniak. Scenic design: Ibanez and Wozniak. Costume advisor: June Steneck. Lighting/sound design: Steve Carlock. Stage manager: Channing Boyer.

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