by Terrance Mc Arthur
Barefoot in the Park, Neil Simon’s longest-running Broadway play, turns fifty-eight years old this year. Is it still funny? Under Dan Pessano’s expert direction, the Good Company Players’ production at the GCP Second Space answers with a resounding…”YES!”
Somewhere in the pre-Beatles 60s of New York City, Paul Bratter (Joseph Ham), a young lawyer, and his free-spirited bride, Corie (Emily Kearns) have rented a fifth-story walkup as their first home. It’s so small (to quote an old joke) the mice are hunchbacked. The skylight is broken, the radiator doesn’t radiate, and the neighbors are so odd that most of them are never seen, with the exception of the cosmopolitan Victor Velasco (Edgar Olivera). These oddities about the place don’t bother Corie. What terrifies her is the visit of Mrs. Banks (Ethel Birrell), her mother.
Kearns is perky and winsome, and she must get a lot of steps in, rushing about the space and up and down its stairs. She keeps the pace going at a lively clip, dashing along in miniskirt and go-go boots.
Birrell, who was so delightful in GCP’s Always a Bridesmaid, follows in the footsteps of Mildred Natwick, Barbara Barrie, Dorothy Lamour, and Eileen Heckart, earlier performers in the role of the mother from New Jersey who tries to be “a good sport” as she surveys a dreadful, bare apartment, and when she is set up on a blind date with the unusual Mr. Velasco, her looks of dismay are priceless as she deals with things beyond Mrs. Banks’ middle-class experience, and her gasps for breath after climbing the stairs are only rivaled by stage manager Jim Brown’s cameo as an aged deliveryman.
Olivera humorously appeared in GCP’s She Loves Me and several Blossom Trail Players productions. He is very good at smarmy, and gets many good lines in this show.
Joseph Ham has a young Dick Van Dyke quality, and he’s excellent at high dudgeon and well-observed drunkenness. He has brightened stages in Reedley, Selma, and Fresno, in roles ranging from thoughtful menace (Wait Until Dark) to flat-out rock-and-roll (The Buddy Holly Story). Here, he transitions from a straight-laced, fuddy-duddy of a lawyer to a wide-open character who will do silly things for love.
Benjamin Geddert is lively as a telephone repair man, and Jim Brown & Company (Hayley Weakley and Hope Casillas) manage to move in all the furniture and décor onto the set during the one fifteen-minute intermission.
The set design by David Pierce includes forced perspective across alleyways, solves the problem of putting actors on ledges, and has stairs that seem dizzying while only being three steps high. Damen Pardo gets his first chance to design the costumes for a GCP show, giving a fashion tour of the 60s (Love the Jackie Kennedy pillbox hats on Mrs. Banks.).
It’s a play about love and marriage, and how to cement the two together with the mortar of compromise. The story is simple, the gags are fast and furious, and there are touches of Neil Simon’s early married life in it. What’s not to enjoy?
Barefoot in the Park plays through October 10 at the 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave. in Fresno. For tickets and further information, contact www.gcplayers.com, or call (559) 266-9494.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.