• Theater Review: For good summer fun, it’s Neil Simon
    By Jim Lowe
     | July 28,2013
    Photo by Brian Jones

    Newlyweds Paul (Tony Roach) and Corie (Lesley Shires) enjoy a tender moment before the disastrous party in the Dorset Theatre Festival production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.”

    Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” is one of those light, irresistible romantic comedies that is perfect summer fare — and Dorset Theatre Festival’s production, which opened Friday, fully delivered its considerable laughs and charm.

    “Barefoot in the Park” premiered on Broadway in 1963, starring Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley. It ran through 1967, for 1,530 performances, making it Simon’s longest-running play, and the 10th-longest nonmusical on Broadway. In 1967, it was made into a hit film starring Redford and Jane Fonda.

    Corie and Paul are newlyweds in the process of moving into the fifth (top) floor of a New York 48th Street brownstone. Paul is a beginning lawyer, and Corie is to stay at home, betraying the play’s 1960s origins.

    Corie’s very conservative widowed mother Mrs. Banks arrives before the furniture, revealing the insecure relationship between daughter and mother. When inviting her mother for dinner, Corie seizes upon the opportunity to invite Victor Velasco, the middle-aged world adventurer and lothario living upstairs — hoping for a bit of romance.

    Not surprisingly, the evening is a disaster, ending with Corie’s mother missing and Corie and Paul headed for divorce. Paul thinks Corie is wild and Corie calls Paul a “stuffed shirt” — he won’t walk “barefoot in the park.”

    It takes Victor and Mrs. Banks to show them some sense.

    It’s all very silly, but the themes are universal, and Dorset’s polished production, directed by Jenn Thompson, has great fun with it. For, unlike many productions, it never goes quite over the top, never becoming too silly, and it benefits from an excellent cast.

    Lesley Shires combined innocence and a sly wit as Corie, while Tony Roach was charmingly earnest as well as a funny drunk as Paul.

    Still, the biggest laughs were won by Amelia White and Geoffrey Wade, a real-life couple, as Mrs. Banks and Victor. White was totally endearing and terribly funny from the beginning, while Wade (seen recently in Weston Playhouse’s “Educating Rita”) felt a bit over the top at first, but that’s Simon. The two were simply priceless.

    Dorset, these days, is creating beautiful, realistic sets. This one, by Kevin Judge, mixed charm and realism attractively, earning a couple of ovations. That was coupled with expert lighting by Michael Gianitti, Dorset’s producing director, most attractive costumes by Teresa Snider-Stein, and sound by Stephen Kunken.

    Dorset’s “Barefoot in the Park” is a great way to spend an entertaining summer evening.

    Dorset Theatre Festival

    Dorset Theatre Festival presents Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” from July 25 to Aug. 10 at the Dorset Playhouse, 104 Cheney Road in Dorset. Performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday (and Tuesday, Aug. 6), plus 3 p.m. matinees Wednesdays and Sundays. Tickets are $47-$38, $20 for students; call 867-2223, or go online to www.dorsettheatrefestival.org.

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