Barefoot in the Park Explores the Timeless Struggles of Young Love

barefootBarefoot in the Park, which recently opened at Trinity Repertory Company, is a silly, lightweight confection that coasts on the appeal of the stars: real-life engaged couple Rebecca Gibel and Charlie Thurston.

Gibel and Thurston play Corie and Paul, newlyweds who move into a fifth floor apartment in New York City. The place is threadbare: no furniture, no heat and no bathtub, with a leaky closet, and a hole in the skylight. And there is a running gag of characters nearly collapsing from exhaustion after climbing up five flights of stairs.

Corie is a bit ditzy – she packs firewood in her suitcase and wears frilly lingerie. Paul is a straight-laced lawyer who won’t walk “barefoot in the park” to Corie’s disappointment. After a wild night at an Albanian restaurant on Staten Island, Paul and Corie decide to get a divorce.

As in his other shows including The Odd Couple and Laughter on the 23rd Floor, playwright Neil Simon proves he is a master at crafting funny dialogue and wacky, larger-than-life personalities.

Gibel and Thurston are both charming and hilarious in their roles, and Thurston proves he can do slapstick when an intoxicated Paul effortlessly slides from the living room coach onto the floor.

There are some terrific supporting performances from Phyllis Kay as Corie’s sex-starved mother who lives in New Jersey, and Stephen Berenson channels Nathan Lane as the oily upstairs neighbor Victor Velasco. Uche Elueze has some fun as a telephone repair man who pays a visit to Corie and Paul.

The set design by Daniel Zimmerman is stunning. Corie and Paul’s apartment is smashing eye candy. It looks like the kind of place a young couple would live in. For this production, there are retractable brick walls that open and close at the beginnings and ends of the three acts, making us believe we are seeing the exterior of an apartment building.

Barefoot in the Park was first produced for the stage in the 1960s. Although the theme of mismatched husbands and wives remains timeless, some of the cultural references could have been updated. For example, how many theatregoers know who Douglas Fairbanks and Arthur Murray are?

Barefoot in the Park doesn’t feature any deep insights into human nature or society. It sets out to be an amusing farce and at that, it succeeds.

Barefoot in the Park runs through Dec 21 at Trinity Rep. Tickets and subscriptions are on sale now at trinityrep.com, by calling 401.351.4242 or at the theater’s box office at 201 Washington St, Providence.

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