A ll playwrights, including the great ones, have one thing in common: a first play. For Tennessee Williams, it was Candles to the Sun . For Arthur Miller, it was They Too Arise . With very few exceptions, most playwrights don't make a mark until their third, fourth or fifth plays, with the early work all but entirely forgotten and rarely, if ever, performed. Neil Simon is the exception. Though one could argue he is not on the same level as Williams or Miller, Simon has it over them in that he struck a chord with his very first play, Barefoot in the Park . And, while he's gone on to write dozens of other plays, many of them quite famous and loaded with awards, that first play has hardly been forgotten, and is still performed with remarkable regularity today, 48 years after it was first staged. It is easy to see why.
As evidenced in its funny, fast-paced production as part of Summer Repertory Theater's current five-show season, Barefoot is not just a play about newlyweds grappling with the manic-depressive promise of a full new life, it is itself full of promise, heralding the arrival of a playwright with a lovingly skewed view of the modern human condition. In the SRT production, friskily directed by Shad Willingham, this promise is fully embodied by Nicole Erb as the newlywed Corie Bratter. Corie, after just six days married to rising attorney Paul Bratter (Joshua Roberts) has taken to matrimony the way happy cultists take to religious conversion, reveling in every mundane detail of domestic life as she waits for the phone to be installed in the tiny fifth-floor walk-up she will share with Paul.
In that opening scene, with a nice turn by Kit Grimm as the wise phone technician, the apartment itself (kudos to scenic designer Kerry Lee Chipman) is established as a full character in the comedy, with its own set of quirks and idiosyncrasies. As Paul, Roberts gives a pleasantly baffled performance, hilariously blending stiff uptightness with wide-eyed amazement.
The story is slight, as Corie's overly-optimistic embrace of her new life hits some snags when she realizes that her new husband isn't as free and wild as she is, but as a showcase for the work of a talented director and cast—and especially Erb—this "promising" work by Simon is a sweet-hearted delight.
'Barefoot in the Park' runs through Aug. 5 at the Newman Auditorium on the SRJC campus, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. $10-$25. 707.527.4343.
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