The 1960s must have been exciting. The blooming flowers, the decadent love, the revolutionary energy; it all looks like so much fun, especially through the eyes of Neil Simon. His 1963 comedy, "Barefoot in the Park," an ode to newlywed life, is buoyant with puppy love and new furniture. Life is grand on this fifth-floor walk-up.
But in an updated and outdated production from Kaleidoscope Theatre, we don't have that much fun. Director Don Gervasi, a comedic and improvisational actor who is usually quick in his wits, has stretched this cute story into a laborious eavesdrop. He moves the action from 1963 to 1981, which brands a categorically different mark on the events in this New York City. John Lennon has been dead a year, decadence is about to hit the fan, and greed eradicates generosity. It's no wonder these newlyweds end up hating each other. What's to love?
Our young couple is cute, but not with each other. Maura Nolan plays Corie Bratter as a sweet, rambunctious girl excited over her new husband and apartment. She loves the idea of being married, even if she has only six days of practice under her belt. She nags her husband, Paul, with a smile in that domestic way. She'll argue about the oven with him so long as he finds it charming and plants a kiss on her face afterward. Nolan's Corie is pleasing in a way Meg Ryan might be pleasing, if Meg Ryan pleases you.
Paul, played by Andy Herr, is an uptight lawyer, defiant to his wife's spontaneity and unconventional charm. He is as luck would have it -- the polar opposite to his wife's bubbly personality. This is where Simon is at his best, pitting opponents against each other with words in their holster and affection in their heart. Not even Felix Unger and Oscar Madison fought out of hatred in "The Odd Couple," just incompatibility.
Herr is the strongest and most lovable in this cast, even when he's a pain. He understands the improbability that his character will ever be enjoyable, yet goes for the gut. Herr plays his Paul the way Jack Lemmon played his similarly disgruntled men: with more exhaustion than disgust, and more love than disdain. It is a well-paced performance.
Tom Owen, as the couple's upstairs neighbor -- upstairs being the attic -- is the grand lothario who woos every woman he encounters. Owen is mysterious in that "Is this the man who lives on the roof?" kind of way, and seductive in that "Don't let him near your mother" kind of way. Even if his part is rather odd, he does a good enough job with it.
As Corie's mother Ethel, Margo Davis brings an unidentifiable electricity to the stage. It's not clear if she's a meddling mom, a tick-prone nut or a roving gypsy. She is an annoying person, which is enough to get by with. It is not her fault that her energy eclipses that of her fellow actors, who appear to be reciting their lines and not reading into them, but it's too much to contain on this narrow, shallow stage. Her performance ends up being too excitable, something from "Laugh-In" and not her daughter's living room.
Davis and Herr are lovely together though, as they all-but-scheme their way to rationalizing Corie's reckless decisions. (A bathroom without a bathtub! A life without a job!) They have a Harold and Maude way about them, which brings out the best in each of their performances and grounds the unevenness of the cast's performances.
A minor part, a repair man, makes an odd switch to "repair gal" here. Britany L. Hagen has a comic sensibility to her, but she's not right in this part. Her scenes are stretched far too long and are just weird.
Gervasi has some good bones here, primarily in a cast that wants to have fun. But that energy comes too late in the second act for us to care. In the meantime we're left to assume they actually hate each other. The feeling, I'm afraid, is mutual.
"Barefoot in the Park"
2 stars (out of 4)
WHEN: Through Oct. 1
WHERE: Presented by Kaleidoscope Theatre Productions at Medaille College, 18 Agassiz Circle