Young Love on High at PPTOPA

Can young newlyweds survive five flights of stairs and no heat in a frigid New York City winter? What if they also have opposing personalities and ideas on how to enjoy life … outside of the bedroom? 

Neil Simon’s longest running hit (from 1963-1967, also the tenth longest running non-musical play on Broadway), BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, was originally described by critics as having “virtually no plot” and being “about nothing at all.” Yet its “highly skilled professional writer” was also praised for creating “one of the funniest comedies ever!” The play garnered four Tony nominations and won the award for Best Direction. (Personally, I take issue with the “no plot” narrative. I consider this play a hilariously over-the-top, yet still valid representation of the pros and cons of the notion that “opposites attract.”  It’s imbued with a timeless message that such pairings can spark individual growth and understanding while still being prone to violent ideological clashes.) 

Popular through the decades – and really worth seeing on stage even if you recall the 1967 movie with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford – “Barefoot” is now playing live at the Pembroke Pines Theater of the Performing Arts (PPTOPA), and it’s an all-round stellar production. Starting with South Florida’s acting and, of late, directing superstar Seth Trucks serving as director. He should also be nominated locally for “Best Direction” as he brought out the very best in his very talented cast.

AT&T phone repairman to the rescue. Back when personal service was a thing, Greg
Schuh (seated) connects Sara Grant’s Princess phone with a smile. Photo by Ron Pollack.

Their antics, interactions, and perfect comedic timing made watching what is basically a retro-style, classic comedy from the sixties a unique pleasure – still humorous while packed with nostalgia. (And for those of us who were also newly married and/or renting our first walk-up apartments many decades ago, a pitch-perfect trip down memory lane.) Beginning with the nervous energy of Corie Bratter, as she carefully places a vase of flowers atop the refrigerator and a bottle within. These are the only two items she can unpack in her bare, fifth-floor brownstone studio with plenty of light (and unanticipated ventilation through a broken skylight) as she awaits a late furniture delivery. 

Sara Grant’s performance as naively optimistic and free-spirited newlywed Corie brings to mind the antics of Lucille Ball’s Lucy Ricardo of “I Love Lucy” fame. Our hometown comedienne owns this role – as she did when I recently praised her work as Jillie in Island City’s rolling premiere of “Tracy Jones.” Corie’s a nonstop whirlwind, running about her small space as the buzzer keeps going off and, later, her phone keeps ringing. In contrast with just about everyone else who arrives – and is encouraged to keep on climbing “just another two” then “one” flight of stairs – to get to her apartment. Whether young or old, by the time they arrive at her door, they are gasping for air, clutching their stomach, side or back, bending over and looking about ready to pass out from the exertion of climbing five flights (which most consider “six” by including the high front stoop). 

First up is Greg Schuh playing a dedicated and kind AT&T serviceman who makes the trek to install a Princess phone. (Remember personal service?) He accepts an offer of water, but when Corie suddenly realizes she has no glasses, he assures her it’s okay, rests a bit, catches his breath and gets to work. Corie is delighted with the musicality of her new phone number, and he readily agrees that it’s a good one. 

The phone rings. It’s a call from her husband’s office to let the newly minted lawyer know he’d been assigned his first case. Stephen Keenan plays Corie’s husband Paul Bratter with great aplomb. The tall, lean, handsome and multi-accomplished actor/teacher/pilot holds degrees in musical theater and, perfect for this role, law as well. Paul tries to accommodate his wife’s whims, but the conservative and practical young man can take only so much insanity before he blows; he’s great fun to watch – whether acting conciliatory or crazy. 

To Corie’s chagrin, Paul arrives before the furniture and can’t hide his dismay at the closet his wife has designated as a single-bed-fitting bedroom for the two of them, the leak in the now inaccessible smaller closet, lack of a bathtub, non-working radiator and, most egregious, the hole in the very-high skylight that will maybe be fixed when their absent super shows up. And he can’t seem to get through to Corie – who’s planned a romantic evening as follow-up to their six-day Plaza Hotel honeymoon – that now he really needs to get to work on his upcoming case. 

It doesn’t help that the next buzzer announces an unanticipated visit by his mother-in-law who “just happened to be in the neighborhood” … from where she lives “all alone in New Jersey.” (Corie has been telling her mom, with little effect, that it’s high time she started living just for herself.) 

Local favorite Francine Birns nails the role of Mrs. Banks (sometimes addressed by her first name “Ethel” after, like in the old days, she’s granted permission). She’s the typical over-involved mother-of-the-bride, continually sending gifts and eager to see everything. She is considerate – almost passing out from climbing the stairs, guzzling pink pills to cope and maybe drinking too much, but she won’t criticize. Still she can’t help commenting on the top floor apartment’s sky view with: “When you were a little girl, you said you wanted to live on the moon.” 

Mom’s conventional lifestyle and outlook have more in common with her son-in-law than her daughter, but Corie is still desperate for her approval. While she’s making the climb up, she pleads with Paul to lie and say they pay a far lower rent than the exorbitant $125 per month (which as the typical breadwinner of the time, only he contributes). 

Then, apparently unaware or unconcerned about the toll these stairs take, Corie sends her husband down to the liquor store so they can share a toast. He returns with more than alcohol, passing on the store owner’s revelation that they live in a building where “all the neighbors are crazy.” For example, there’s Mr. Velasco in Apt. 6A who’s known as the Bluebeard of Fourth Street. How do you get a sixth floor above their top fifth floor? By living in the attic, which the 58-year-old womanizer is now locked out of for not paying rent. He startles Paul when he suddenly appears from their “bedroom,” having asked Corie to use their window to gain access to his place.

Distinguished actor/singer/music director Christopher Dreeson perfectly embodies the play’s most colorful and outrageous character, Victor Velasco, who can charm his way into and out of any situation. His devil-may-care attitude certainly wins Corie over, who decides he’d be the perfect date to bring her lonely mother back to life and secretly arranges for him to join them when she visits on Friday. In flamboyant Velasco fashion, he invites the group to an authentic dinner at The Four Winds, an Albanian restaurant all the way out in Staten Island. 

Some nine or ten ouzos later (at last count for Corie’s mom), a completely exhausted Paul arrives at their apartment, having carried Mrs. Banks up the stairs on his back. She then decides she needs to go home as she can only sleep on a plank and Mr. Velasco offers to drive her, not worrying about how he’ll get back. He also lets them know that the only side effect of excessive ouzo is you can’t make a fist for three days, which appears to be true. 

Paul is coming down with a bad cold and Corie disparages him as being incapable of having a good time. “There are Watchers in this world and there are Do-ers … Well, tonight you watched and I did,” she says. She mocks his always being proper and dignified and goes on to accuse him with, “You’re very close to being perfect.” To which he responds, “That’s … that’s a rotten thing to say.”

More samples of Neil Simon’s iconic/ironic wit bring us to the play’s title. 

Corie: I have never seen you without a jacket. I always feel like such a slob compared to you. Before we were married, I was sure you slept with a tie.

Paul: That’s ridiculous.

Corie: And you’re not. That’s just the trouble. Like Thursday night. You wouldn’t walk barefoot in the park with me in Washington Square Park. Why not?

Paul: Very simple answer. It was 17 degrees.

Corie: Exactly. That’s very sensible and logical. Except it isn’t any fun.

Sadly, like many first-time married couples, their fight escalates to where after just four days of co-habiting in an apartment, Corie insists on a divorce and Paul nearly kills himself trying to prove he can be impractical and a stupid drunk. But then an imagined emergency unites them in shared worry. Will all be forgiven? Can they get past their differences to support one another and rekindle their love? 

Playing matchmaker. Newlyweds Paul (Stephen Keenan) and Corie (Sara Grant) look on
as their flamboyant attic neighbor Mr. Velasco (Christopher Dreeson) attempts to charm
Corie’s uptight mom Mrs. Banks (Francine Birns). Photo by Ron Pollack.

You might find this young couple’s fights ridiculous, unless you can remember how emotional and illogical you were, once upon a time, when first in love. The playwright may exaggerate here and there for effect, but he has a gift for pace and dialog and a sure hand in depicting both quirky and more typical Metropolitan New York denizens of a certain era that you just gotta love. The work of set designer John Blessed, props manager Lisa McFadden-Murphy, costume designer Alicia Rivera, and lighting designer Michael Graham place us squarely in his world. 

You don’t have to run barefoot in the park to experience the pure joy of Neil Simon’s biggest comedy hit (though feel free to give it a whirl in our more clement Florida weather). Just come see the show! BAREFOOT IN THE PARK is playing through January 28 at Pembroke Pines Theater of the Performing Arts (PPTOPA) at the Susan B. Katz Theater at River of Grass ArtsPark, 17195 Sheridan Street, Pembroke Pines 33331. For tickets go to or call 954-890-1868.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *