The Precursor to the Odd-Couple
Fifty years ago, in the fall of 1963, Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park opened on Broadway. Set right before the Great Cultural Revolution, this very dated play explores the same theme as The Odd Couple; namely, how can two people, who are polar opposites, live together in harmony, even if they are very close. Unlike The Odd Couple where the two people are two divorced men, Barefoot in the Park, has two newly-weds. In those days, “pre-marital sex” was actually a concept instead of the norm, living together before marriage was not done, brides didn’t necessarily work and young women often lived in the parental home until moving right into the marital home. If anybody was having sex before marriage it wasn’t o.k. to mention it in public, let alone on stage.
All these factors were present in Barefoot in the Park. A young free spirited bride, fresh from a six day traditional honeymoon at the Plaza Hotel in New York, is moving into a 5th floor walk-up apartment with her uptight ambitious hard-working husband. Like all couples, who notch up the relationship commitment, they encounter a lot of conflict, incompatibility and disappointment, and nearly divorce after about four days. However, all is resolved when the husband decides to mirror the bride’s behavior back to her, by getting drunk, and behaving irresponsibly. Finally, she realizes that life is not one big party and involves being able to get up in the morning for work. The subplot involves Corie, the bride, being so moved by her first sexual experiences that she decides to fix her widowed mother up with the ne’er do well Bohemian neighbor and the mother shockingly spends the night with him. Shock, Shock!!!!
Unfortunately, none of the cast had the necessary comedic skills to make this play particularly funny. The most fundamental rule for comedy is to play the seriousness of the situation and the laughs will follow, in this production, they played things too much for laughs, the timing was off, and the cast couldn’t handle sarcasm. The definition of sarcasm is when the words convey a certain meaning but it is said with an inappropriate intonation for the meaning of the words, so that the sentence conveys a hidden ( often snarky) meaning. In addition, the leading lady, Corie, played by Amberlee Williams, spoke above her optimal pitch most of the time, due to a lack of breath support, so her voice was borderline shrill, annoying and could not convey the subtleties of emotion.
Updating the costumes and music to the ’80, without updating the language caused a real disconnect. There were many anachronistic expressions such as “Rat-fink” and the letters as the first two numbers in a telephone number. It would have been better to stick to a period piece, because the social mores of the ‘80’s were so different from the social mores of the early 60’s.
On the other hand, the limitations of TPS’s Theatre 4 worked well to convey a cramped attic apartment in a Brownstone in the early 60’s. Also there is a lounge next door where you can have a drink before the show and at intermission.
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK by Neil Simon, directed by Christopher Jewell. Local Jewell Production & Shandra Russell Productions. Theatre 4, Center House (Armory) SeattleCenter, 305 Harrision. Tickets: www.localjewell.com tel (206) 605-1128. Fri 8 pm, Sat 2pm to 8 pm. Through Oct. 5.