It was a clear and sparkling autumn afternoon in The Woodlands, and one could easily have gone “Barefoot in the Park.” Just as delightful was a matinee visit to Neil Simon’s show of the same name, currently in production at Montgomery College.
Ably directed by Jami Hughes, this light comedy was a smaller scale offering than some of the school’s well-received musical productions, but it was not without its charms. And comedy, it is often said, is the most difficult challenge for an actor.
The play tells the story of two young newlyweds, Corie and Paul, who are setting up their first apartment in Manhattan. In a small cast of six, Leslie Harlton (Corie) and Joseph Lamont (Paul) show considerable skill in demanding roles that seldom allow them to leave the stage. I am in awe of actors that can master so much dialogue. The hardworking-supporting cast includes Kelly Sills as Corie’s condescending mother, Ethel, and Douglas W. Small in an amusing turn as the eccentric neighbor, Victor Velasco. In smaller roles, Jim Powells (as the telephone repairman), and David Kerr (as the delivery man) bring added laughs to the show.
The action unfolds in the top floor apartment of a New York brownstone that is very well rendered in the split-level scenic design of talented Lorne S. Kelley. Kelly’s work as Make-Up Designer was a bit less successful as attempts to age some of the youthful cast sometimes resulted in sharp facial lines that resembled cat whiskers. The lighting and sound designs of Mr. Kerr were fine complements to the production.
From the beginning, the crisp wit of Simon is another star of the show. On a cold February day, after just six days of marriage, Corie frets that the new furniture has not yet arrived. The telephone repairman wisely counsels that her amorous new husband “…won’t notice the place is empty until June!” As Corie tries to play matchmaker between her mother and Victor, Small shows a knack for capturing the humor in lines like “I wish I were 10 years older. Dirty old men always seem to get away with a lot more!” With his rich, resonant voice, Small also deserves credit for quick recovery with a troublesome false mustache. The cocktail scene is a riot as mother tosses Victor’s homemade gourmet “appetizer” over her shoulder in an effort to avoid eating it. Sills, with an appealing soft voice and excellent articulation, has great fun delivering droll lines like her encouragement to Corie — “You will have a happy and complete marriage — like two out of 10 couples!”
At times, the comedy efforts are a bit labored. The “breathless” routines, as characters climb the five floors to the apartment, do not always work. There is an important difference between “acting” breathless and “being” breathless. At other times the show really catches fire. The best example of this was the explosive scene when the newlyweds have their first fight and threaten divorce. Miss Harlton (who at times reminded me of Jane Fonda’s film version of the role) really carried this off with convincing skill; and Lamont had all the talent needed hold up his end of this battle royal. For a minute there it looked like Burton and Taylor in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Perhaps I could summarize the show by paraphrasing Paul’s apology to Corie — “Even when I didn’t like you, I loved you.”
Let’s just say that even when it wasn’t perfect, going “Barefoot” was fun!
“Barefoot” will have its final performance Sunday in the college’s Fine Arts Theater at 2 p.m. For information call (936) 273-7021.
(The Courier 11.21.02)
(The Villager 11.22.02)