BWW Review: It Was Hilarious Going BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at Homewood Theatre

BWW Review: It Was Hilarious Going BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at Homewood Theatre

Homewood Theatre recently put up a snappy production of Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park." Written in 1963, Barefoot has all the elements of a traditional good ol' American sitcom. You know the kind. Newlyweds discovering emotional peaks and pitfalls, a tense parent-child dynamic, unresolved family issues, wise advice from a telephone repairman and a bohemian continental who lives in mystery upstairs. Simon skillfully combined all these elements into this comical romance set in a tiny 6th floor walk up apartment in New York City .

Paul (Mike Cunliffe) and Corie (Sara James) are the newlyweds from seeming two different sides of a coin. Paul is a straight laced and business savvy attorney. Corie is a free wheeling idealist with much spirit and optimism. The couple is settling into their new but old first apartment together. Desperate for her mother's validation, Corie goes to great lengths to gain Ethel's (Salena Stalker) approval. Ethel is working on her own issues of isolation. The final component to the mix is the upstairs neighbor Victor Velasco (Howard Green), a flighty man of extensive travel and experiences. Paul and Corie have been married for six days. As they are moving into a new apartment they start to find cracks of doubt. She's rubber and hes Glue. The small traits that make them opposites begin to become more noticeable and bigger. Each character gets knocked on an arc that evolves with some nicely woven undertones about love and relationships. Director Marietta Lunceford gave strength to building a progressively intense three-act structure. The performance played out naturally in good time without any lags. Peppered into the script are delicious moments of slapstick. The cast hit the marks and got some cardio in from the running and pratfalls.

BWW Review: It Was Hilarious Going BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at Homewood Theatre

Kyle Bass with Homewood Theatre was excited to work with this cast. "It's been fun from start to finish. When you get good actors it makes everything easy." "Barefoot in the Park" is one of Bass's favorite plays. "I have always liked Neil Simon's writing, especially the snappy dialogue. Nobody in town has done it or I haven't seen it put up in the last few years. So I thought we need this kind of thing. A lot of comedies are going toward more outrageous stuff. This is that old classic comedy. I thought that would work well, especially here for Homewood Theatre. We love doing shows like this. I hope to do more of his work this season. "

Mike Cunliffe gave keen attention to not play Paul just as a character, but as a real person. This approach led to some tender moments along with big laughs. Sara James walked the line between Corie's whimsical nature and her building emotional distress. The fact that James and Cunliffe are actually married really helped make this show funny. The natural chemistry was there right from the start.

BWW Review: It Was Hilarious Going BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at Homewood Theatre

Sara James provided an inhibited performance. In her first scene she hit the stage dancing and singing like no one is watching. "This is my first legit lead role so I was very excited to have been asked to do the show. They were looking for an actual couple to play Paul and Corie. Mike and I haven't done a show together in a couple of years. I thought it would be great. I have grown to like Corie a whole lot more than I did at the beginning." I asked her to share some moments she did not expect while doing the show. "There is a lot more unspoken comedy than I expected in just reading the script. It is a very physical show. The script itself is funny but the physical comedy is where the art lies."

There is a lengthy section in the play when Paul is arguing with Corie, who plastered drunk. At face value this sounds like an easy thing to do, but it's not. It is a challenge for an actor to be able to perform a scene where the character is not just intoxicated, but is also affected by a building conflict. In this case, a drunken Cory is reacting to a pending divorce with Paul. James personally has beaten the bottle and been sober for many years. She used her skills to give fuel to Corie's crumbling emotional state along with a proper match of physicality in her performance. "I have a lot of experience being drunk, so..." James says with a huge laugh. "I never know. It's a weird feeling. I spent a lot of time trying not to feel like that. Putting myself in that place is kinda fun. I get to be drunk without being drunk. I tried to play, as she got angrier she sobers up a little. I wanted it to be gradual, not OK now Im sober and we are gonna fight."

BWW Review: It Was Hilarious Going BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at Homewood Theatre

Along with Mike Cunliffe being a fine actor he is also a polished improviser. His has an impressive commitment to every nuance in a character. "My improv skills came in handy in this show. We all knew our lines and we all knew what was going on. Inevitably something would shift or somebody would drop a line, we would have to go back and do something. Knowing where we were in the story would help me glide over those moments." This is not the first time he and Sara have done a show together. I asked what was different this time around. "In the last show I did with Sara was "Boeing-Boeing", I had these big passages that had long explanations and descriptions. This show a regimented set up, punch line, set up, punch line. I was either the strait man or I was delivering a punch line. That made it easier to keep track of where we were. " Cundliffe was crisp in his delivery of Paul without making him stifling or arrogant.

Howard Green gives Victor an air of sophistication with a comically eccentric delivery. He provides a charming demeanor of a man who can tell you where to get good Armenian food in the city at 4am. Green's warmth and confidence shined in a perfect role for him.

BWW Review: It Was Hilarious Going BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at Homewood Theatre

Salena Staker provided Ethel with a hilariously dry demeanor. This gave a springboard to an abundance of comedic deliveries and set ups throughout the performance. In her first scene she has traversed the 6 stories of stairs and nearly collapses into the apartment. Walker was able to keep the role interesting throughout. "I love the humor Simon wrote into my role. She's ditsy, very innocent and loveable. I love the relationship between Corie and her Mother that develops gets stronger at the end. She didn't realize what she was missing until she found it. It is a very Americana piece of theater."

The physical comedy was key to Salena's delivery. She gave it her all and committed to the emotional delivery and expressive physical comedy. "I always said I would do anything if there was something like another Carol Burnett Show. This maybe is as close as I'll get." She says laughing with a smile. "This was a role of a lifetime for me."

Kudos to set designer Tim Lunceford for his set of a charming and convincing tiny NYC apartment, skylight and all. Congrats Homewood Theatre for delivering a funny and touching production of "Barefoot in the Park." Hopefully your next show will have a longer run. Kyle Bass is right. We do need more of these classic comedies in Birmingham.

Homewood Theatre

Barefoot in the Park

By Neil Simon

Directed by Marietta Lunceford

Cast

Sara James

Mike Cunliffe

Salena Stalker

Howard Green

Kyle Bass

Jan 19 -21, 2018

Homewood Theatre at the Dance Foundation

1715 27th Court South . Homewood, AL 35209

Homewoodtheatre.com



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