Barefoot in the Park: Neil Simon classic comedy at Playhouse

When Barefoot in the Park debuted at the Biltmore Theatre in New York in 1963, no one dreamed that playwright Neil Simon’s comic look at marriage, through two newlyweds, would go on to become a theatrical phenomenon.

Barefoot in the Park became Simon’s longest-running hit, and the 10th longest running non-musical in Broadway history.

It was nominated for three 1964 Tony awards and Mike Nichols won the award for the Best Director (dramatic).

On June 8, Barefoot in the Park will debut on the stage at Upper Canada Playhouse, featuring an outstanding cast, and directed by Playhouse artistic director, Donnie Bowes.

Audiences loved Barefoot in the Park. Critics loved it.

The play has been successfully filmed and revived again and again around the world.

“This is a play where an entire story unfolds over the course of the evening,” Bowes said.

“The play looks at themes of new love, of falling in love, and at the realities of marriage. And it is full of wonderful supporting characters too. I think of it as looking at life through a comic lens.”

The play is set in the 1960s, and Bowes agrees that there is a definite nostalgia aspect to the show. However, that is part of its attraction. “The audience has a chance to go back in time to a different era.”

Upper Canada Playhouse is sharing this particular production with theatres in Orillia, Collingwood and Brampton.

Consequently, UCP technical director, and set designer for this show, Tristan Goethel, has created a set that is both flexible and readily adaptable to other theatres.

The events of the play all occur in a cramped 1960s brownstone where newlyweds Corie and Paul face the ups and downs (and curve balls) of married life together.

A strong cast is vital in a production like Barefoot in the Park. Bowes has brought together a group of accomplished actors, with a wealth of experience in live theatre, film and television, with Linda Goranson, Melissa Morris, Ephraim Ellis, Allan Price and John Dickhout.

However, because the play was filmed in 1967, and Barefoot still remains one of Neil Simon’s most often staged comedies, the cast is aware that many performers have tackled the parts.

“I don’t actually study other actors who have done the role of Ethel (Corie’s mother),” said Linda Goranson. “I don’t want to copy them. Especially,” she added with a laugh, “if that past performance was outstanding.”

“I actually did watch the film (starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford) recently,” said Melissa Morrison, who plays the young wife, Corie.

“I hoped to get the feeling of the era, the mood. However, I try not to get trapped into another actor’s interpretation. Corie’s character  was ‘radical’ for the 60s when there were more boundaries for women.”

Allan Price, who plays Victor, the couple’s rather intrusive neighbour, has also seen the popular film but “you have to get another actor’s character out of your head.”

Ephraim Ellis, who took on the role of the husband Paul a very few days ago, laughed that he “didn’t research him at all. I’m discovering things day by day and experiencing everything fresh.”

However, John Dickhout, who plays a telephone repairman, managed to break up the press conference when he solemnly declared: “I took a unique approach to my role. My fridge broke and I called a repairman and then watched him.”

In a play with just five characters, the cast has built strong relationships during rehearsals for this classic comedy.

“I tell my actors to grow in their roles,” said Bowes.

“Every time you do a show, it’s always different. Characters change, voices change, actions change. This always keeps things fresh for the cast and also for the audience.”

This is a play filled with much laughter, and some gentle truths, and should provide a crowd pleasing First Act to the 2017 season at the Playhouse.

Information and tickets for Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park,  on stage at Upper Canada Playhouse, June 8 to July 2, are available by calling 1-613-543-3713.