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Barefoot in the Park
by Rob Kendt

©2006 Carol Rosegg
Patrick Wilson & Amanda Peet in Barefoot in the Park
Heres something you dont see every day: a film actress making her Broadway debut with nary a trace of gratuitous glamour or hammy, I-have-arrived overstatement. As Corie, the erratic young newlywed in a perky if pointless new revival of Barefoot in the Park, Amanda Peet doesnt get a single stars entrance; instead she opens three out of the shows four scenes already onstage and haplessly engaged in some solitary housewifely duty, from wallpapering to butchering a batch of martinis.

And though shes dressed in loving retro designs by Isaac Mizrahi, Peet has a knock-kneed, perpetually disheveled look about her, like a tomboy dressed up in her big sisters clothes. Or her moms: As Cories wry, widowed mother, Jill Clayburgh gets sleeker outfits and better lines. These, and her budding romance with a rakish eccentric, Victor Velasco (Tony Roberts), make an excellent case that youth is overrated. This was not quite the point of Neil Simons 1963 hit, which seems to share some of Cories dizzy screwball romanticism about her brand new marriage to Paul (Patrick Wilson), an ambitious young lawyer. But by taking a tone of affectionate, knowing hindsight, both for the 60s and for just-married puppy love, director Scott Elliotts production gives off an attractive patina of worldly wisdom, even if its short on revelations.

Like most of Simons best work, Barefoot is a kvetchy valentine to New York City, though the new production has relocated its young couples underfurnished fifth-floor fixer-upper from the East 40s to the more iconic Greenwich Village. Certainly Mr. Velascos beret, and his matter-of-fact question to Corie, "Are you a folk singer?" fit the new neighborhood, but one suspects that this downtown-ization owes more than a little to our contemporary sense of where New Yorks youthful heart is. Like the nearby Broadway revival of The Odd Couple, the first act of Barefoot dramatizes an applause-getting apartment makeover (set by Derek McLane), and its second builds to a near-breakup of this fragile, transient domestic arrangement.

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At least this roommate saga has better chemistry than that odd Couple. While its very hard to imagine this marriage proceeding very smoothly past the final curtain, Peet and Wilson do come off as exactly the sort of pair that would end up—or at least start out, and maybe keep coming back—together.
©2006 Carol Rosegg
Tony Roberts & Jill Clayburgh in Barefoot in the Park
Wilsons strapping, babyfaced Paul has enough cocky virility to explain his attraction to and for a volatile wildcat like Corie, even as hes edging into a recognizably cranky, baiting exasperation that will only make her wobble and worry all the more. And both performers have the crucial capacity to seem both genuinely riled and amused by the other—what Cories mother must mean when she tells her uncertain daughter, "Ive never seen two people more in love."

Theres a whole other play, a delicious side dish, simmering between Roberts and Clayburgh. Both actors have gracious, unpushy comic timing, which makes them seem positively courtly, and in their own way much sexier than the randy youngsters. When Corie starts to rave to her mother about the joys of carnal love, and recommends that Mom give it a try, Clayburgh turns her characters studious avoidance of the subject into a witty generation reversal—a turnaround of the well-known discomfort of young people with the topic of their parents sex lives. "Dont you even want to discuss it?" asks Peets Corie, guilelessly. "Not with you in the room," replies her mother. In Clayburghs hands its clearly not prudery that makes the subject out of bounds, but a thoroughly earned, and lightly worn, sense of superior knowledge. She knows what Corie will have to learn on her own: that a companion for lifes journey will have to be good for more than a roll in the sack, or even a walk in the park.

Barefoot in the Park
By Neil Simon
Directed by Scott Elliott
Cort Theatre

 
Print This Story / Send the Story to a Friend / 2/16/2006 5:10:00 PM

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