BYU’s production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” a pleasant, amusing story of two newlyweds’ adjustment to each other, is full of energy, but has trouble getting itself off the ground and up to any great heights of hilarity.
Corie (Julina Newsome Hall) and Paul (Dallyn Vail Bayles) have returned from their honeymoon and moved into a tiny fifth-floor Manhattan apartment. (There’s no elevator, either, resulting in approximately 12,000 jokes involving people being really tired after climbing the stairs — what, is somebody making these people RUN? Or was everyone just really out of shape in the ’60s?)
Corie is a carefree, spontaneous, pixie-like gal with unending spunk and optimism. Paul, as you might suppose, is her polar opposite. He is grounded in reality and maturity, and he soon finds his wife’s boundless zeal to be tiresome.
This comes to a head when Corie sets up a blind date between her dour mother (Amberly M. Daines) and their zesty, vaguely European neighbor Victor Velasco (Jason E. Hall). The four of them go out for a night on the town that leaves Corie and Victor energized, and Corie’s mom and Paul thoroughly exhausted.
The is the cause of The Big Fight: Paul and Corie’s big blow-up that, two-thirds of the way through the play, is the first time things really get interesting. Paul gets the most laughs in the play anyway, thanks to Bayles’ high-tension, sardonic performance, and the fight scene is no exception. Hall holds her own as Corie, giving the character as much life as you could hope for.
Unfortunately, director Corey Ewan has made it so that rather than Corie and Paul both being in the wrong — he should lighten up, she should grow up — in this production Paul seems 100 percent right, and Corie just seems like an immature brat. There’s no reason for compromise; Paul is OK how he is, and it’s Corie who needs to change. The fight scene just underscores this, as Paul is driven to insanity by his wife’s astoundingly babyish behavior.
All of which makes Paul’s third-act attempts at loosening up seem superfluous, and even tedious. The play seems to overstay its welcome: If the fight scene is the climax, then the resolution is waaaaay too long.
There are some believability problems with the show, too. As much as I loved Bayles’ very solid performance as Paul, and as enjoyable as Hall is as Corie, I never really believed they were mad at each other. Similarly, Amberly M. Daines’ portrayal of Corie’s mother is sweet, but not for a second does Daines seem convincing as a middle-aged woman. And Jason Hall’s Victor Velasco seems hollow, too — he and Corie’s mom seem like characters on the stage with no people inside them.
This means there are some slow moments in the show. But overall, Bayles carries things along smoothly, with ample help from Hall, and the show is a fluffy, amusing diversion that will no doubt inspire some nostalgia in many married couples.
Clearly, the best thing about this show was how the characters were dressed. I don't mean their costumes (although those were nice); I mean the way they were DRESSED -- the ties were straight, buttons were buttoned, everything was nice. This is all due to the fabulous efforts of my good friend Jjana Valentiner Morrill, who served as dresser for this show. She helped the actors get in and out of their costumes, and kept track of all the clothing used in the show. Kudos to Ms. Morrill and her fabulous dressing skills!
I kid, of course. The dresser is about as important to the success of a show as the guy who prints the programs. But I love Jjana Valentiner Morrill, and I wanted her to feel important. That's why I wrote that last paragraph; I just hope she doesn't read this one.
Interesting how the last time I saw "Barefoot in the Park," it was the role of Corie that dominated and seemed most sympathetic, not Paul. Part of the problem there was that the guy who played Paul was really bad, but still.