Barefoot in the Park

by DICK KEREKES
Orange Park Community Theatre and The Tom Nehl Fund of The Community Foundation presented the opening of the 40th OPTC season with Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park. This show will be on stage through October 10 at 2900 Moody Ave in Orange Park. Call 276-2599 for reservations or visit their website at www.opct.org.
If you were standing outside of Orange Park’s playhouse on opening night, you would have heard waves of laughter for a full two hours. This wonderful comedy debuted on Broadway in l963 and was a smash hit. For the full house audience at OPTC, it might as well have been written last month, the central themes are timeless. $125.00 a month for a New York apartment, and references to a couple of TV shows, are the only thing that dated it.
Corie (Jessica Palombo) and Paul (Joseph Walz) have returned from their six day honeymoon and moved into a tiny high rent Manhattan apartment on the 6th floor with no elevator, which results in a running joke by those tired of climbing the stairs.
Corie is a spontaneous optimistic fireball who wants to present herself as a dutiful wife, while husband Paul is more of a realist and serious. Tensions arise when Paul finds her zest to be tiresome. Corie sets up a blind date between her widowed 50ish mother (played with delightful charm by Toni Stephens), and upstairs neighbor Victor Velasco (Tim DeBord), a mysterious man who is among other things, a lecherous old man, a blatant freeloader, a glib gourmand, but a very likable romantic fellow.
A wild evening on the town with lots of drinking causes an argument between Paul and Corlie because he refuses to walk “barefoot in the park” with his intoxicated wife. (Hence the title of the play.) Are they headed for divorce court after six days? What has happened to her mother and Victor? Those things I will let you discover.
Richard Haertel is outstanding in the cameo role of the telephone repairman who makes two exhausting visits to the apartment (it’s those stairs, you know) to install and repair the phone. He gets a lot of laughs with just a few lines.
Shaun Saulsberry is a young actor, playing a package deliveryman, an OLD deliveryman. Saulsberry sported a white left over Santa beard to age him. This did not interfere with his lines (he had none). I think I would have skipped the beard and changed the line from old man, to young man who will be old before his time, climbing stairs with large packages.
Jessica Palombo and Joseph Waltz are absolutely perfect as the young couple.This exciting acting duo have incredible timing and chemistry. Jessica and Joseph have been a couple since they met in a play 6 years ago and have been in seven shows together. You may remember the team of the late Jessica Tandy and Hugh Cronyn (last movie was Cocoon).
Sara Green makes her directorial debut with this show. I was going to say she was very lucky, but I think she was very smart. First she chose a play that has a marvelous track record, with snappy writing. Everybody is a wise guy in a Neil Simon play and that makes it fun to do. Secondly, Ms. Green’s casting could not have been better, and picking experienced and talented actors is a giant first step to a successful production. I bet she will be back next season, not only directing but as an actress as well.
Ms. Green and David Wells designed the excellent set that could not have been better. The cast provided their own costumes, which was mainly their own clothing and quite suitable.
At the two short intermissions, I did a bit of eavesdropping and was surprised that most of the people in the audience had never seen this play before, or even the l967 Jane Fonda/ Robert Redford movie. I must confess I laughed myself to tears several times, and I had seen the show 4 or 5 times. It was just so well done with perfect timing and just the right emphasis on the lines; one could not help but laugh. Oh, in case language bothers you, the only four letter word in this play is LOVE. Simon is from the old school of playwrights.
Orange Park has a hit with this one and it is one you do not want to miss.

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