Barefoot in the Park is often hailed as an American classic. It’s been made into a hit movie and its playwright, Neil Simon, has more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer. Given this solid pedigree, I expected a lot of heart, humor, and humanity from this production. I didn’t necessarily get what I’d hoped for.
Barefoot in the Park follows newly-weds Corie and Paul as they settle into their first home together. Free-spirited Corie sees a lot of potential in the cozy sixth-floor apartment while rising star lawyer Paul is less sure of the broken skylight, cramped quarters, unorthodox electrical wiring, and lack of bathtub. Therein the central conflict: Corie whines of having “nothing in common” when Paul refuses to let loose and “enjoy life”. Only her idea of enjoying life is setting her unsuspecting mother up on a blind date with a slightly-strange lothario upstairs neighbor. One woman’s adventure is another’s nightmare!
If it seems like I am unsympathetic toward Corie, it’s because I am. I fully embrace the idea of taking risks and trying new things but Corie’s aggressive approach of forcing loved ones into uncomfortable situations ‘for their own good’ is selfish at best, clueless at worst. When Corie (played by Katherine Norland) is introduced, she seems adorable, vivacious, and lovably innocent but as the play continues she becomes increasingly awful, volatile, and almost willfully naïve. She’s shrill, demanding, extremely emotionally unstable, and wholly unlikable which made this play tedious.
That said there were a few shining moments onstage. Jesse Lalonde offered a perfect blend of patient love, restrained frustration, and youthful passion as Paul. His character’s struggle to appease his wife’s demands and make the relationship work while maintaining his own sanity and safety was believable and heartfelt. Lalonde went through a wide range of expressions, from exhaustion to quiet compassion to silly drunkenness, with ease and charm.
Likewise, watching the evolution of Corie’s mother, played by Christine Drew, was a delight. From being a quiet, anxious woman afraid of change to gamely trying to be brave in the face of new discoveries to excitedly embracing her newfound freedoms, Drew effortlessly showed us the complexities of being both middle-age and motherhood. She was fun and played off Barry Caiger’s worldly Victor Velasco well.
Overall, this was a solid presentation of Barefoot in the Park with great use of lighting, sound, set design, and direction. Most of the actors did an excellent job and, at its heart, the story is one worth seeing. It’s just a shame that the main character was so irritating.
But that’s just my opinion. I want to know what you thought. Were you rooting for Corie? Have you ever made your partner do something they didn’t want to? What was the result? Would you demand a divorce after less than one week? Tell me what you’re thinking in the comments below.
Barefoot in the Park is presented by The Ottawa Little Theatre. It runs now through July 30th at the OLT on King Edward Avenue. Visit their show page for performance times and to purchase tickets.