`Barefoot' is dated, but a nice diversion

February 04, 1999|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The return of Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" to the Colonial Players stage as part of the group's 50th anniversary celebration brings with it impressive debuts of three performers and a director at the theater on East Street in Annapolis.

Todd Withey, a veteran of Anne Arundel Community College's Moonlight Troupers, and Denise Levien give strong performances as Corie and Paul Bratter, the beleaguered newlyweds living in a fifth-floor walk-up in a building full of eccentric characters in New York.

Levien displays amazing energy and appealing warmth as Corie, but the role constrains her to be superficial, shallow and often silly.

Paul is a caring stuffed-shirt, and Withey captures these qualities and displays athletic prowess, falling and tumbling like a gymnast.

In his first stage appearance, Derek Calo makes a remarkably fine impression as the telephone repairman.

Calo realizes all the comic possibilities of the role but never exaggerates set pieces, such as the six-flight climb to the Bratters' apartment, managing to convince us of its difficulty without tiresome histrionics.

Anne M. Ellis, who gave a sensitive portrayal of the conflicted Lizzie Curry in the season's opening show, "The Rainmaker," makes a strong directing debut, drawing fine performances from newcomers and veterans.

Of the Colonial veterans in the show, Dianne M. Hood, in her 22nd performance at the theater in the round, is most outstanding.

Hood is completely believable as Corie's mother, never overacting. Another veteran, Ed Wintermute, is believable as the flamboyant upstairs neighbor, Victor Velasco.

As usual, the set evokes the period, this time with 1960s butterfly chairs and martini crystal.

Written in 1963, "Barefoot in the Park" is Simon's only romantic comedy, and, he says in his memoirs, is largely autobiographical as it follows the travails of the couple in an apartment that is frequently without heat, has a leaky skylight, no bathtub and a closet-sized bedroom.

Simon has said that Corie is based on his wife, Joan, but the character in the play is one-dimensional, often unrealistic and overly romanticized. Paul is a reflection of himself, he says.

Robert Redford and Jane Fonda starred in a movie version of the play in 1967. Colonial Players mounted its first production of the show during its 1968-1969 season.

Perhaps "Barefoot in the Park" is a bit dated, a condition that seems more likely to befall comedy than drama, but Simon's play is a pleasant diversion that reflects a more innocent era.

Information or tickets: 410-266- 7373

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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