OREM — Neil Simon’s classic romantic comedy Barefoot in the Park receives a charming telling at the Hale Center Theater Orem. The result is a pleasant experience for those looking for a humorous and relaxing night at the theatre.
Barefoot in the Park looks in on the lives of a young, newlywed couple just returning from their honeymoon and learning how to live together as husband and wife. While at first infatuated, they soon learn that marriage is perhaps not all that it is cracked up to be. The couple struggles to find things in common due to their opposite personalities. The husband, Paul Bratter (Jason Sullivan), is a “stuffed shirt” type, who prefers order and logic in all things, while his wife, Corie (Kelly Coombs), is adventurous and eccentric, preferring to live in the moment. When Corie’s mother, Ethol Banks (Karen Baird), comes to visit, Corie all-too-eagerly decides to play matchmaker and set her up with the very friendly and spontaneous upstairs neighbor, Victor Velasco (Mark Pulham). Hilarity and conflict soon ensues, all leading toward a touching happy ending.
Coombs, reminiscent of a young Kristen Chenoweth, plays the role of Corie Bratter in a delightfully bubbly and giddy manner, never missing a beat. Her energy is contagious and carries the first act of the show. As the show progresses, her character becomes quite mean and bitter, though Coombs is still able to easily fit these different personalities into the guise of one multi-dimensional character. Sullivan opposes Coombs’s character nicely with his down to earth nature and wit. He did seem to stumble over his lines quite a bit in the first act however. Because I saw this show a week into the run, this makes me concerned with his preparation. Luckily, this issue did seem to resolve itself as the show continued.
Where Coombs and Sullivan really shone was in there chemistry together. Beginning with a solid romantic and sexual chemistry as a true newlywed couple, the audience might be convinced of their relationship as being a real one off-stage, which of course is not the case. This chemistry only became stronger in the later acts, creating the most honest moments while the two are fighting and arguing, and then as the show is resolved at the end. Because of the small cast and premise of the play, this chemistry is conceivably the most important and commendable thing for these actors to accomplish. Similarly, Coombs and Pulham’s infectious chemistry was strong and realistic, and a humorous joy to watch. Pulham was also a standout in the production, having created a solid and incredibly amusing French character. It was a delight every time he was on stage.
While the show did contain its slow moments, it did succeed in being very comical. There were moments I laughed out loud, which I rarely do while watching live theatre. Simon’s script is packed full of funny lines and little anecdotes, and director Dave Tinney has a talent for bringing them to life. Each cast member was able to emphasize these moments of humor by implementing their unique character personalities. Also notable was the great blocking and placement of the characters at all times during the show. Every seat seemed like it could have been the best in the house, something often tricky with thrust staging.
The scenic design by Bobby Swenson was effective in helping the audience fill in the missing pieces of the apartment with their imaginations, although the actual set was fairly simple. This provided plenty of room for the actors on the small stage without taking away any needed elements of the setting. Most impressive was the New York City skyline that appeared outside the couples’ apartment, constantly reminding the audience of the height and location of the apartment. Cody Hale’s sound design was also simple, though a nice and needed touch. In a show like this with long transitions between acts and scenes, the sound design can be very important. In this particular case, the sound helped to lift the mood during these transitions, keeping the audience entertained and engaged with the show. I often found myself tapping my foot at these times, instead of getting bored in the dark as the scene changed.
Overall, Barefoot in the Park was delightful, with very little to improve upon. A commonly told and modest story, Barefoot in the Park is the classic romantic comedy that is satisfyingly heavy on the comedy. With a strong cast and excellent direction, this fun, feel-good production is worth the night out.