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Review: BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at Desert Theatreworks

Review: BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at Desert Theatreworks

Simon Classic Still Sparkles!

When Desert Theatreworks started producing shows a decade or so ago, their third production was Neil Simon's The Gingerbread Lady. Ever since then, it has been a tradition to include one of Simon's plays in each season. Since Simon wrote over 30 plays, that tradition could go on without repetition for quite some time. In previous seasons they have introduced me to some titles I wasn't familiar with, but this season they have chosen one of the blockbusters: Barefoot In The Park.

I can't count the number of times I have seen this show since it premiered on Broadway in 1963, but the Desert Theatreworks production, currently playing at the Indio Performing Arts Center, reminded me of what a sparkling gem this show is. It is a laugh-out-loud comedy with plenty of human, touchy-feely moments. Director Rebecca McWilliams has already been awarded the Desert Star Best Comedy Awards for two previous Simon scripts she directed for DTW. I will be surprised if this one doesn't earn her the trifecta. It is a delight from beginning to end.

The story starts when newlywed Cory Bratter (Alana Fayth) dashes into the 6th floor apartment she has selected as the couple's first residence. In a word, it is a humble abode as evidenced by Lance Phillips' set design, but to her, it is a palace - HER palace. The show truly belongs to Cory - she is only offstage for a few moments - and it couldn't be in more capable hands than Fayth's. The joy and pride she finds in this shabby tenement is infectious.

The next character we meet is a telephone installation man. Veteran actor Ron Young's entrance sets the pattern for all characters who can only enter the apartment after working their way up six flights of stairs. Aided by age and size, Young mills every possible laugh from his exhaustion, and then sets up the first interchange of witty dialogue in his conversation with Cory. Simon is just so damned funny in what appears to be an effortless manor. There is a brief-but-funny entrance of a delivery man, played by Toby Griffin. Griffin is best known for his set designs throughout the Valley, but garners all possible laughs from his brief moments on stage.

Paul Bratter (Kellen Green) is a perfect match for Cory. His unwavering love for her tempers his disappointment with the apartment. Again, delightful writing well performed. I loved this couple so much that I found myself wishing that this were a sitcom where I could catch up with them every week.

Soon Cory's mother (Janae Kleban) makes her way up the treacherous six flights of stairs, and not without complaints. Like Paul, she loves Cory completely while she is aghast with the apartment. Kleban has decades of stage experience that shows in every step, gesture, and raised eyebrow. Simon has written the character in what seems a bit of a stereotype to me, but he had a Jewish mother and I didn't, so I've got to trust him. I loved Kleban's "schtick," but would have appreciated a few more moments of humanity. On the other hand, the audience was eating out of her hands throughout the performance.

Lastly we meet Victor Velasco (Richard Marlow), a suave-but-penniless man of uncertain age and ethnicity who lives upstairs. I have seen this character played very broadly, but applaud Marlow for a nuanced performance keeping him kookie but believable. It's hard for me to remember that this is the same Richard Marlow I saw a few months ago as a merciless drill sergeant in a production of Simon's Biloxi Blues. He is truly a chameleon and a treasure both as an actor and director (he helmed DTW's excellent Little Shop of Horrors).

All technical details were smooth and efficient - especially a special effect that involves a broken window. Adrianna Reyes' stage managing, props and sound design; Mariah Pryor's lighting design; Rebecca McWilliams' costuming; Janiyah Williams on light board and Ricardo Mendoza on sound board all remained unnoticed, which is the goal of technical theatre. A suspended screen showing the title and wedding photos works fairly well, but a couple of large monitors at the sides of the stage would be slicker and more effective.

Barefoot in the Park is a celebration of youth and love. First wedding, first apartment, first meal cooked in first kitchen and first fight. I defy anyone to sit through this production and not laugh, and then experience a few wistful memories. And can't we all use that?

Barefoot in the Park, produced by Desert Theatreworks led by CEO Ron Phillips, continues at the Indio Performing Arts Center through November 27. Tickets and further information are available at Next up the Christmas favorite, Irving Berlin's White Christmas. There are lots of performances and this would be a great sharing with friends and family during the holiday season!

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