An Early Valentine: Barefoot in the Park

Courtesy photo

Altarena Playhouse’s current show, Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park, is an old favorite. You may know it from the Robert Redford-Jane Fonda 1967 film version of the same name, where a young couple take on married life without knowing very much about each other. Simon made his screenwriting debut in this wistful domestic comedy set in Greenwich Village that centers on Paul and Corie Bratter in a fifth-floor walkup. Much of the play’s comedy focuses on the apartment’s Spartan furnishings, lack of heat and those dreaded five flights of stairs (six, if you count the stoop).

Altarena’s version stars Alamedan Becky Doyle and Matt Davis, whom Altarena audiences will remember as Bernard in Boeing Boeing. Corie and Paul are an odd couple, with Corie’s joie de vivre and Paul’s business-first, playtime-later attitude. Both principals are adept in their roles, marking the comedic highs and newlywed angst with sharp timing and much charm.

Opposites attract — and not just between the lovebirds. Corie’s laced-tight mother, Ethel (Bonnie DeChant), and the Bratters’ upstairs neighbor, Victor Velasco (Randy Anger), a worldly gourmand, also get pulled into the dramatic maelstrom of Corie’s unleashed sensuality. She has discovered herself as a woman — and wants Ethel to share in the experience. DeChant and Anger are newcomers to Altarena, and they round the cast with both maturity and a lighthearted philosophy born of wisdom and experience. The two couples mirror each other in fumbling steps, and later, in warmth and confidence.

Although the setting is clearly the 1960s, the play holds up remarkably well. The couple’s fumbling naiveté about marriage still rings true; what is more striking is how exhausting Corie must have been to her 1940s mother (and audiences) when this show debuted. Director Sue Trigg, well known and beloved by Altarena, has plumbed the depths of Barefoot and found new magic in the revisiting of small character comedy.

Notable comic relief comes from Telephone Repair Man Montgomery Paulsen and Delivery Guy Ben Freck. A darling set makes frigid fifth-floor atelier-dwelling seem chic; period costumes are also spot-on. Well done, all.

If you’re feeling romantic in advance of Valentine’s Day, there’s still time to see the show. Take your sweetie along and decide which of you is a Corie or a Paul — a "kindergartner" or "a stuffed shirt." Then let the lovers’ quarrel begin.

Barefoot in the Park runs through Feb. 16. $26 adults; $23 seniors/students. Box office 523-1553 or reserve online www.altarena.org. Altarena Playhouse is located at 1409 High St.

Julia Park Tracey is an Alameda writer, formerly the Alameda Sun’s editor and publisher. Find her on Facebook/JuliaParkTracey Author and Twitter@juliaparktracey. She is much more Paul than Corie.