Good acting, good laughs make RCP's 'Barefoot' time well spent

Friday, February 16, 2007
Corie Bratter, center, played by Holly Raines, shows her mother, played by Kathy Heckman, her new apartment in the River City Players' "Barefoot In The Park" production at Port Cape. Joe Reed, right, plays Bratter's young attorney husband. (Kit Doyle)

There's a reason Neil Simon is known around the world for his plays -- they speak to experiences we've almost all had in our adult lives, especially "Barefoot in the Park."

The beauty of "Barefoot in the Park" is that, no matter your age, gender or outlook on life, if you've been in an adult, nonplatonic relationship, you can identify with the struggles of the lead characters, Paul and Corie Bratter. Add in all the laughs built into this classic script, and you have just the kind of production River City Players' audiences should thoroughly enjoy.

The plot: Two newlyweds move into a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village, New York, their first shared domicile other than a hotel room. The place is tiny and rundown, the neighbors are weird, the bride's mother is annoying -- these factors all come together to produce some major trials in the first few days of marriage for Paul and Corie Bratter (played by Joe Reed and Holly Raines).

The similarities to Simon's other light comedy, "The Odd Couple," are all over this one. The ultimate blow-up between Paul and Corie occurs because she's carefree and he's uptight. Given the time frame this play was written (1963), one could interpret Simon's affinity for this kind of pairing as a sort of allegory on the changes happening in American society. But we don't need to go that far. All you need to know is that Simon was funny, he had a way with building characters and it shows in the River City Players production of "Barefoot in the Park."

Most memorable is Victor Velasco, played by River City Players perennial standout Bryan Parker, an eccentric man-of-the-world with a love of life and an affinity for walking on ledges. The best description for Velasco at times is "lovable sleazeball," providing major comic relief delivered nearly without flaw by Parker.

Velasco spends most of his time pursuing Corie's mother, Ethel, a straight-as-an-arrow woman who is the epitome of conservative living (she sleeps on a board). Kathy Heckman plays Ethel beautifully.

Rookie director and longtime River City Players veteran Rich Behring is also hilarious in his small part as the jaded and tired telephone repair man, who really plays up the "six flights of stairs" gag by wheezing like he's close to death every time he enters the scene (the Bratters live at the top of a building without elevators).

Meanwhile Raines and Reed, both of whom are on stage almost the entirety of the three-act play, both convey that "real people" vibe, playing characters with quirks, pet peeves and vulnerabilities. Both are fairly new to the River City Players gig, and sometimes their inexperience comes through, but overall they contribute to an entertaining cast of characters that all of us can identify with in some way.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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