Going ‘Barefoot’ at Laguna Playhouse

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(left to right) Lily Gibson, Rita Rudner, Paul Rodriguez, and Nick Tag in “Barefoot in the Park” at Laguna Playhouse. — Photo by Jason Niedle ©

Between 1961 and 2003, prolific playwright Neil Simon penned nearly three dozen plays and a similar number of screenplays, making him one of the most well-known names in theater history. His plays, mostly comedies with a few “dramadies” (a mix of drama and humor) thrown in, are still regularly performed at community and regional theaters across the country.

“Barefoot in the Park,” Simon’s third play, opened on Broadway in October 1963, and closed on June 25, 1967, after 1,530 performances. It was Neil Simon’s longest-running Broadway hit, and the tenth-longest running non-musical play in Broadway history.

Laguna Playhouse has staged numerous Neil Simon plays over the years. Now, the theater brings “Barefoot in the Park” to its Moulton stage through March 22.

The Playhouse production, like the plot, is firmly rooted in the 1960s, when plays with two intermissions were the norm, not the exception.

The setting is pre-Kennedy assassination and pre-Beatles invasion. A time when, as the play suggests, a husband worked, and a wife — well, she decorated the home and made dinner.

Lily Gibson and Nick Tag in “Barefoot in the Park” at Laguna Playhouse. — Photo by Jason Niedle ©

Corie and Paul Bratter are a newlywed couple moving into their first home: A small, rundown apartment on the top floor of a brownstone in New York City. Corie is bouncy and optimistic about their future. Paul, a down-to-earth young lawyer, worries about the leaky closet, lack of a bathtub, a broken skylight, and the five flights of stairs (six if you count the stoop).

Add Corie’s meddling but well-meaning mother, Mrs. Banks, eccentric neighbor Mr. Velasco, an out-of-breath telephone repair man, and an equally wheezy delivery man, and you have the makings of an amusing romp that is reminiscent of a TV sitcom. Not surprising, since Simon’s subsequent play, “The Odd Couple,” became a smash sitcom hit.

Over the course of several days, Corie and Paul argue, with Corie accusing Paul of being uptight and not able to run “barefoot in the park.” Mrs. Banks disappears with Mr. Velasco, the newlyweds discuss divorce, and…well, you’ll have to see the play to find out how it ends.

The Laguna Playhouse production provides a quartet of actors in the lead roles who imbue their characters with life while doing their best not to create caricatures — not always an easy balance to maintain in a Simon play.

Lily Gibson (last seen at Laguna Playhouse in “Harvey”) is Corie, a vivacious young woman who adores her new husband as much as she adores keeping house. Nick Tag (Laguna Playhouse’s “The Graduate”) is Paul, a strait-laced lawyer who indulges his wife’s whims while trying to keep focus on his burgeoning career. They are both perfect for their roles, and are able to shift focus, and personalities, as they play goes on and there’s more at stake.

Paul Tag, Rita Rudner, and Lily Gibson in “Barefoot in the Park” at Laguna Playhouse. — Photo by Jason Niedle ©

Comedienne Rita Rudner, a legend in the stand-up comedy world and a familiar face at Laguna Playhouse, plays Mrs. Banks not so much as a meddling mother but more like an affable critic who ends up offering sage advice while ignoring advice herself.

Fellow comedian Paul Rodriguez plays Mr. Velasco with a naturalness and charm that nicely offsets his character’s quirkiness.

The sets and props all bask in a 1960s glow, helping to set the required time period and ambiance.

“Barefoot in the Park” has some nice laughs, a handful of chuckles, and a boatload of charm—make that a park full of charm.

For more information, visit LagunaPlayhouse.com or call (949) 497-2787.

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