Barefoot, Ugly, Boring
While the humorless set might argue that Neil Simon is a hack sentimentalist whose plots are contrived, characters flat and dialogue as cute as a greeting card's, I'm not among them. Simon's prolific career is marked by many great comedic successes. However, his overrated, overdone Barefoot in the Park isn't one of them.
Excluding one funny line in Act Three, there really isn't much humor in this leaden unfunny valentine intended to make us believe that—stop the presses—opposites truly can attract.
Barefoot is the flimsy story of Corie Bratter, an impractical free spirit, and her husband, Paul Bratter, a lawyer too sensible for his own good. The dreary plot dwells on the shortcomings of their overpriced New York walk-up —the horror!—and the question of whether their new marriage can survive the extreme differences in their temperaments.
Maybe when it was first produced in the late 1960s, audiences found the story novel. If so, they missed The Taming of the Shrew, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, Ricky and Lucy, and a hundred other such couplings. The past 30 years have seen that plot descend into something worse than clich—what comes after hackneyed?—with sitcom after sitcom rehashing the formula. Just once, can't we see that sometimes there are intractable differences between certain people and maybe—just maybe—love isn't truly enough?
Anyway, it's a dumb, done-to-death story, one that is in need of deep burial—or at least some sort of directorial tweaking that reinvigorates the impossibly banal theme. Unfortunately, nothing that the usually creditable Six Chairs & a Couple of Artists does with its current production comes close to making it palatable.
Updated to the present day, the script is dressed up with references to the Lifetime Network, Donna Karan and Andy Dick. The rewriting also updates the supposedly overpriced rent on the couple's apartment to $1,000, which shows a hilarious ignorance of the current New York real-estate market. On the other hand, the production leaves intact Simon's politically incorrect wisecracks about homosexuals and immigrants, which sound anything but modern.
I am duty-bound to report the sad, sad news that Mindy Woodhead, in the crucial role of Corie Bratter, turns in a performance with scarcely a single unaffected moment. As the evening is dominated by this character, Woodhead's frequent mugging, mannered behavior and shrillness are significant liabilities. The program indicates that the production has two directors, Heather Christianson and Tiffany Piperno, neither of whom apparently got around to telling Woodhead to tone it down.
By contrast, Michael Serna (as her husband) is natural and grounded. Ironically, the contrast in the interpretations of the two leads makes their marital problems more believable but simultaneously undermines the credibility of their reconciliation at the end—a divorce seems the more reasonable outcome, especially given the updating of this production.
In any event, the show is nicely fitted out with an elegant set and costumes. But there is one acoustic problem that pops up quite a bit at this theater, a converted office space in Long Beach: the stage floor is like a drum head, creating an irritating distraction with every step the actors take. One hopes the performers here will soon be treading the boards lightly and with far worthier material.
Barefoot in the Park at Six Chairs & a Couple of Artists, 1409 E. 4th St., Long Beach, (310) 226-7075. In repertory, so call for exact dates and times. Through April 29. $12-$15.
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