A year ago, Moonstone Theatre Company began its inaugural season in fine style with Jake’s Women, a neglected play from Neil Simon’s maturity.
Moonstone has returned to Simon to open its second season, but not to his late period. The current offering is Barefoot in the Park, one of Simon’s earliest, best-known works. Once again, the quality of Moonstone’s production is high.
The principal characters are Corie and Paul Bratter, who have been married for six days. After a honeymoon at the Plaza Hotel, they have moved into their first home together: an apartment on the top floor of a Manhattan brownstone. The apartment has no heat, no furniture, and other problems in the opening scene.
Corie and Paul’s differing views on the apartment are signs of a gap growing between them. She sees the possibilities. He sees the problems. She wants to prolong the delights of their honeymoon. He wants to start focusing on his career.
They are far apart in their responses to the first neighbor they meet, Victor Velasco. He is an eccentric who speaks with continental flair, defies conventions, and throws himself into his passions. Victor fascinates Corie. Paul is wary of him. Corie wants to fix up Victor with her mother, Ethel Banks, who lives alone in New Jersey now that Corie has left home. Paul thinks the blind date will be a fiasco.
The two couples go out for a dinner that deepens the rift between Corie and Paul. The challenge facing the newlyweds is keeping the rift from becoming permanent.
The play is a product of its time. The Moonstone production is true that time under Sharon Hunters’ knowing direction. Michele Siler’s costumes and Emily Fluchel’s props are straight from the 1960s. The props include a TV tray and a heavy suitcase that could have come from the home I grew up in.
In the leading roles, Rhiannon Creighton and Luis Aguilar impressively convey the attitudes of the 1960s. Aguilar’s Paul leans into his role as the sole breadwinner. His considerations are all practical. Creighton’s Corie has no interest in Paul’s career. She is a romantic who does not want wedded bliss to die out because Paul cannot see beyond work.
TJ Lancaster captures Victor’s quirkiness without going overboard. The audience can see why Corie is charmed with Victor’s whimsy and Paul isn’t. As Ethel, Jilanne Klaus convincingly portrays a loving mother who is at a crossroads now that her nest is empty. Klaus makes the most of the comedy when Ethel finds herself in an acutely embarrassing situation.
Chuck Brinkley as a telephone installer and Bob Harvey as a delivery man bring out the comic potential of their characters’ exhaustion after climbing five flights of stairs. Brinkley adds depth to his character in his second appearance.
In depicting the apartment’s skylight, scenic designer Dunsi Dai creates a striking image that takes advantage of the high ceiling of the Strauss Black Box Theatre. Michael Sullivan’s lighting and Amanda Werre’s sound enhance the atmosphere.
Corie and Paul’s growth at the end of the play leaves them far short of a contemporary relationship. Viewers who are glad to have moved beyond the sexual politics of the 1960s need to think of the play as the period piece it has become.
Barefoot in the Park continues through November 13 in the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 East Monroe Avenue. Show times are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
From left, TJ Lancaster as Victor, Jilanne Klaus as Ethel, Luis Aguilar as Paul, and Rhiannon Creighton as Corie in Barefoot in the Park.