Playwright Neil Simon
Ensemble Theatre until October 8
Photos Clare Hawley
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
It was 1967 at the Murwillumbah Ritz Cinema when, as a young teenager, I first saw the film, Barefoot In The Park, starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Much of the subtle humour of playwright Neil Simon was probably lost on me, but one iconic image stood out.
Originally written for the stage, I hadn’t seen a live production and was delighted to hear that the Ensemble Theatre would be exposing it to a new generation of audiences.
So has Simon’s script aged in fifty years?
The impulsive newlywed, Corie, is entrusted by her husband to rent them an apartment in New York City. She finds one five floors up (six if you count the stoop) and there is no lift, so everyone who visits enters the apartment gasping and wheezing. On top of that, there is a large hole in the skylight and it’s the middle of winter, yet Corie is enthusiastic and optimistic.
Casting is interesting in that the two leads are well-trained, yet inexperienced actors. Jake Speer is rock-solid as Paul, the young, ambitious, conservative lawyer who, by necessity, eventually comes out of his shell. Mia Lethbridge is spectacular as the vivacious, spontaneous Corie, with personality radiating from every pore, and she encapsulates a modern young woman of the 1960s, complete with a reference to Toni Home Permanents.
Two of the other roles are filled by performers who might be considered to be more “box-office”. Georgie Parker is Ethel Banks, Corie’s mother, who lives a quiet life in New Jersey. Over the years, Parker has shown that she can stretch to play a wide variety of stage roles, and in this one, she convincingly projects the hesitation, nervousness, conservatism and latent extroversion in Ethel.
Daniel Mitchell is excellent as Victor Velasco, the eccentric, middle-aged flamboyant continental lothario who lives on the roof. Mitchell sounds like a European adventurer and looks like English comic actor Terry-Thomas. In an appearance early in the piece as the delivery man, Mitchell, wearing round glasses, an overcoat, a cap and sporting a moustache, visually evokes vivid memories of his father’s alter-ego, Alf Garnett.
Stealing his few scenes is Jamie Oxenbould as the telephone repair man. Great comedy often comes from silent reactions to the dialogue, and Oxenbould is a master at it, making the most of all of his appearances.
Director Mark Kilmurry extracts every ounce of humour from Simon’s script which still stands up today, fifty-three years after its Broadway premiere.
Barefoot In The Park at the Ensemble Theatre will make you laugh and smile and
provides an opportunity to see one of the early plays of one of America’s most talented and prolific writers.