Waukesha Civic Theatre’s ‘Barefoot in the Park’
an effortless comedic romp
by marilyn jozwik
Published 3:26 p.m. MT June 5, 2017 | Updated 3:29 p.m. MT June 5, 2017
I didn’t think Benjamin Johnson could get much better than his effortless mastery of song, dance and comedy in recent productions of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Gypsy” and “Anything Goes.”
This time around, he can just concentrate on comedy – Neil Simon’s, to be exact. And Simon and Johnson are at their best in “Barefoot in the Park,” Waukesha Civic Theatre’s present show.
Not only does Johnson have the role of Paul Bratter nailed down in every way, he is surrounded by an equal in Katie Lynne Krueger as his new wife, Corie, and a veteran cast that skips easily through this rollicking comedy.
Simon’s comedy is rapid fire, and if you can’t keep up with the pace it falls flat. This cast, under the direction of Kelly Goeller, keeps the high-speed volleys at the rate of a Williams sisters’ tennis match.
But there is the occasional lob – that slow, deliberate response that gets the optimum laugh, such as when Corie’s mom appears in their apartment wearing only a man’s robe and slippers. “Where are your clothes?” asks Corie, to which her mom, played by Donna Lobacz, pauses just long enough, then carefully responds, “That, I can’t tell you.” Perfectly timed, and the audience chortled.
Setting the scene
“Barefoot in the Park” opens with newlywed Corie in her small, fifth-floor New York apartment.
There is no elevator, and the phone installer, delivery man and others all reach the Bratters’ apartment comically out of breath. (It is a device that Simon, perhaps, overuses. Although, when Paul brings in Corie’s mother after a night on the town, the physical comedy is hilarious.)
Corie has a blue Princess phone installed and there are references to a Toni home permanent and the TV show “What’s My Line?” to help place the setting squarely in 1963, which this audience appreciated.
The apartment has its issues – a hole in a skylight, a bedroom that barely fits a bed, a leaky closet – which provides lots of fodder for comedy. “I’m going to be shoveling snow in my own living room,” says Paul. (Simon loves to poke fun at the New York lifestyle.)Paul is a lawyer, while Corie is a housewife (it’s 1963, remember) who can’t wait until her Type A-personality husband gets home. They have just spent a blissful six-day honeymoon, but the realities of marriage begin to set in as Paul returns to his high-powered job and an intrusive, epicurean neighbor (who Paul calls “a Hungarian Duncan Hines”) named Velasco (Rick Richter) and Corie’s mother complicate their lives.
Paul and Corie’s first big fight is a scene that requires a totally in sync pairing, and Johnson and Krueger handle it absolutely pitch perfect – better than their counterparts in any of the several versions of this show I had seen.
Simon’s dialogue homes in on Corie’s emotionality and free spirit, as well as Paul’s practicality and lack of spontaneity. “You don’t seem to have the least bit of adventure in you,” Corie bemoans, recalling how he wouldn’t walk barefoot in the park with her – even though it is the middle of winter. However, she admits, “Even when I didn’t like you, I loved you.”
Adding spice to the production are the wonderful performances of Lobacz and Richter, both area veterans who slip into these roles like a comfortable pair of loafers.
Lobacz has us empathize with Corie’s mother rather than having her seem annoying or cloying.
Richter simply is one of the area’s finest actors, adding an ease and confidence to every role he dives into. His Velasco is suave enough to not seem smarmy, confident, yet not arrogant. Richter is always engaging.
In a small role, Lloyd Munsen as the Telephone Man fits easily into this fine-tuned production, as does Scott Fudali in his brief moment.
This show is simply loaded with laugh lines and funny situations, but there is also a lot of humanity, a lot of moments that most everyone can relate to, and this cast captures that quality to a T. There is a near constant ripple of laughs, a sure sign of expert delivery.
If you go
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: “Barefoot in the Park”
When: Through June 18
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha
Tickets/Info: 262-547-0708; waukeshacivictheatre.org