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'Barefoot' is smart theatre that shouldn't be missed

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014 06:00 am

DOUBLE DATE – Left to right: Corie (Rachel Bowron), Paul (Ryan Parker), Victor Velasco (Jeff Haslam) and Mrs. Banks (Davina Stewart) are on a double date enjoying hors d'oeuvres before heading out for a night on the town.
DOUBLE DATE – Left to right: Corie (Rachel Bowron), Paul (Ryan Parker), Victor Velasco (Jeff Haslam) and Mrs. Banks (Davina Stewart) are on a double date enjoying hors d'oeuvres before heading out for a night on the town.

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Barefoot in the Park
Teatro La Quindicina
Runs until July 26
Varscona Theatre
10329 – 83 Ave.
Tickets: $16 to $30 plus fees. Tuesday is pay-what-you-can

I sat in the Varscona Theatre audience wondering if I’d made a mistake in seeing a Neil Simon play. As a kid, I’d really enjoyed the weekly television series, The Odd Couple.

But the last Neil Simon production I saw, the humour seemed stale, dated, a bit past its maturity date with jokey references to Sixties personalities that went over half the audience’s head.

But within the first 10 minutes of Barefoot in the Park, I was won over by Andrew MacDonald-Smith’s performance of an out-of-shape, wheezing, gasping telephone repairman who climbs five flights of stairs to install a rotary dialer. This is, after all, 1963.

By the end of the first act, it dawned on me how brilliantly crafted the play was and how all the actors’ comedic timing – no matter how small the role –was firing on all cylinders.

The story follows Paul and Corie Bratter, fresh off a whirlwind honeymoon as they begin married life in a small fifth floor New York walk-up. The apartment has a hole in the skylight, the heat needs to be turned off to work and the sardine-can size bedroom is so tiny, the couple can barely squeeze a single bed into it.

Corie is giddy in love. She is a vivacious adventurer who wants their passionate romantic life to carry on at full throttle. On the other hand, Paul has just been handed some new legal briefs and is eager to start his career.

When they don’t see eye-to-eye about their apartment, their neighbour and their sex drive, their weeklong marriage hits the skids.

Enter Mrs. Banks, the elegant, but rather prudish mother who is partial to pillbox hats. And then there is the 50-year-old Victor Velasco, an eccentric, colourful neighbour who clearly outdoes Corie’s spontaneous energy. Once the two drop by, there is no going back and the tensions increase.

The play builds around Corie and Paul’s contrasting natures and the apartment becomes the setting where they work out their marriage from a malfunctioning heating system to dealing with quirky neighbours to a first-time spat that explodes into marital warfare.

Professional casts have been known to murder these plays. However under the astute direction of Steward Lemoine, the actors find the rhythm of the language and create a charming time capsule filled with a mixture of innocence, exuberance, a dash of wisdom and a great deal of humour.

Rachel Bowron rises to the occasion and reveals sizzling comedic chops. Her Corie is at once a bubbly, sexy bride who despairs of her stick-in-the-mud husband. Bowron is in terrific form and never lets a line slip by without surrendering to it completely.

Ryan Parker’s buttoned-down Paul goes through a full spectrum of emotions from love and irritation to jealousy and frustration to outright anger and sarcasm before reaching a reconciliation. Underneath a sheath of witty barbs, Ryan delivers the right tone for each interlude.

Davina Stewart as Mrs. Banks is a loving mother who takes pink pills. We’re never sure why, but it contributes to one of the funniest scenes in the play after a disastrous visit to an Albanian restaurant and too much ouzo.

And Jeff Haslam as the loony Victor Velasco is genuinely funny and affecting in a role that can easily become tiresome.

Barefoot in the Park has a distinct brand of sophisticated humour that doesn’t rely on dirty jokes or one-liners. It’s simply smart theatre that shouldn’t be missed.


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