CREEDE — I can now say I’ve been in a brownstone. Well, actually that’s a lie. But thanks to folks at Creede Repertory Theater the experience felt extremely believable. When shown in the round, the endearing qualities of Neil Simon’s romantic comedy “Barefoot in the Park” are elevated to another level.
Each audience member has to get to their seats by walking through the same apartment door that play’s deliverymen do as they struggle up five flights of stairs.
The fireplace was 10 feet away from me and I could see all of the luggage belonging to Corie and Paul Bratter, the newlywed protagonists, right in the center. Hardwood floor covers every inch of the ground and instead of the usual black emptiness behind chairs, there’s a false wall complete with industrial windows. I’ve always felt a sense of intimacy in shows I’ve seen at the Ruth Humphreys Brown Theatre, but this is different. This time I felt like a voyeur inside of a movie studio watching the action unfold around me.
Being up close and personal is important because the work’s tension and humor come from the less-than-well-off state of the apartment. There’s a hole in the skylight, which isn’t exactly comfortable in a New York winter, and plumbing that works backwards.
“What color are you going to paint it?” asks Corie’s mother Mrs. Banks (Christy Brandt). “It is painted,” her daughter (Caitlin Wise) responds.
Meanwhile Paul (CRT sophomore Dustin Bronson) reminds me of comedian Larry David as he channels writer Neil Simon, which is natural since the play is based on Simon’s memoir. “I’m going to be shoveling snow in my own living room and with the wind there could be six foot drifts in the bathroom,” Paul groans.
Though “Barefoot in the Park” is roughly two hours, the pacing and punchlines are stylistically similar to a sitcom. It doesn’t have the same sharp wit of Noël Coward or the slapstick of “Noises Off,” but the writing is just as funny in its own way. It is a prototype of “The Odd-Couple,” and there’s no surprise that both of Simon’s plays eventually became television shows.
CRT’s stable of actors help bring the script to life. Wise is her usual exuberant self and her alter ego Corie loves life more than anything. Bronson’s deadpan and silent expressions speak as loud as Victor Velasco’s odd quirks. “If anyone gets lost we meet at the American Embassy,” said Velasco (Logan Ernstthal) as the group goes to dinner. He can wear a scarf in 35-degree weather and only puts on a coat when its 25 degrees outside.
In the second act Paul and Corie play matchmaker with Mrs. Banks and Victor, but as they get close the young couple’s personalities begin to rub against each other. Corie is carefree while Paul is a “stuffed shirt” that doesn’t want to walk barefoot in Washington Park in a snowy February.
Set in 1963, a portion of Corie’s personality can be explained by current events. The birth control pill was approved a few year’s prior, Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” was released and The Equal Pay Act is soon to be signed into law. To top it all off, their Greenwich Village apartment is at the center of the counterculture movement.
Aside from some dated references that I didn’t quite catch, the only negative thing I can say about the play is that it’s somewhat predictable. When the third act starts I know Corie and Paul will smooth things over. Yet what helps me suspend disbelief are the on-point musical cues. Playing Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” at the climax is not a coincidence. And it’s not a fluke that you’ll leave the theater immensely glad you entered that New York apartment.
“Barefoot in the Park” is playing at CRT’s Ruth Humphreys Brown Theatre now through Aug. 9. It is rated PG and tickets are available at 719-658-2540 or at www.creederep.org.