“Barefoot in the Park” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – October 22, 2023


Arizona Theatre Company, Tempe Center for the Arts
Tempe, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Arizona Theatre Company made a smooth transition from the uncomfortable Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix to the sleek Tempe Center for the Arts.  For its opening production in its new home, ATC selected Neil Simon’s second play and his first big hit, “Barefoot in the Park.”

It is winningly staged by Michael Berresse and performed by a comically adept acting ensemble who deliver the one-liners with hilariously droll timing as they create distinct characters from the stereotypical people Simon mocks. Unfortunately, the 1963 play is littered with now tired cliches and sickening sexism as it typifies a bygone era.

Theatergoers in front of me seemed exasperated at the play judging by their telling facial expressions each time the play stooped to derogatory feministic statements such as male superiority and the group headed for the exit before the first intermission.  Even some of the humor has been so heavily borrowed in other plays that funny lines fall flat.  Simon developed in his later and still funny plays better insights on more complex human situations.  There’s not any mystery about these characters and they don’t change much.

Corie and Paul, a newly married couple, arrive at a Manhattan brownstone apartment on the top floor of a building without an elevator.  We get a slew of how challenging it is to get to the apartment by every character that enters and the building is full of unusual characters including Victor, a man who goes his own way.  Corie’s sensible Mother, Mrs. Banks, discovers an atypical relationship.  Not a thing we haven’t seen in better “rom-coms” since.

The play further dates itself with talk of a high rental cost of $125 a month in a snazzy Manhattan neighborhood.  Perhaps the tedious references, the predictable plot, and the one-dimensional characters are why this Simon play is not seen much anymore.

But let’s stop dwelling on the dated play and focus on the well-conceived production.  Director Berresse keeps things gliding along and only the play’s repetitious nature slows things down.  Tim Mackabee’s marvelous set adds and the superb cast couldn’t be better.  Kyra Kennedy is the flighty Corey who thinks marriage should be problem-free. Tyler Lansing Weaks is mousey Paul who hesitates to challenge his new wife. Gayton Scott is an opinionated Mom who learns to bend and sway as things develop. Harry Bouvy is a flamboyant and carefree Victor.

ATC’s “Barefoot in the Park” makes the most of a now predictable Neil Simon comedy that hasn’t aged well. It continues through November 5 at the Tempe Center for the Arts.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 833-ATC-SEAT or ordered online at www.atc.org.

Grade: B

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