Every newly married couple discovers that not long after the ceremony ends, the honeymoon will be over, and we’re not talking about that romantic six-night stay at the Plaza Hotel.
Neil Simon’s 1963 stage comedy “Barefoot in the Park,” which opened Aug. 2 at the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White in-the-round theater, captures that moment in time when Manhattan newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter suffer their first major marital dust-up just a few days after their Plaza suite honeymoon.
Producing a 55-year-old play about a shallow, free-spirited housewife whose only responsibilities are decorating, cocktail-mixing and matchmaking may seem out of place in this era of female empowerment. But director Jessica Stone has found an ingenious way, through casting and smart scenic design, to make the story fresh and charming.
Simon’s inspiration for “Barefoot” was his blissful first marriage to dancer Joan Baim, who died from cancer 10 years after its premiere. So it’s fitting that Stone has made Baim’s theatrical alter-ego, Corie, the joyous, dancing embodiment of young love.
In her Old Globe debut as Corie, the radiant Kerry Bishé effortlessly steals the show. The “Halt and Catch Fire” TV star glows with marital happiness. She’s adoring, clever and playful as she embraces her new married life and conjures domestic decorating magic with her fingertips (think Samantha in “Bewitched”).
Although, as written, Corie has limited options as an early-’60s homemaker, Stone makes the character warm, relatable and brainy in finding work-arounds in her cramped apartment — who knew a toilet tank makes a good liquor chiller?
Corie adores the couple’s decrepit fifth-floor walk-up apartment, but it’s one on a growing list of things that her uptight attorney husband, Paul, resents. Paul is amiably played by “Glow” TV star Chris Lowell, who does a slow burn through the two-hour, 20-minute play until he hilariously erupts in a furious drunken rage in the rewarding third act.
Mia Dillon is another scene-stealer as Corie’s buttoned-up mom, Ethel, who gradually and amusingly succumbs to the quirky charms of the Bratters’ upstairs neighbor, penniless Hungarian bon vivant Victor Velasco. Jere Burns (of TV’s “Angie Tribeca” and “Dear John”) is wonderful in the flamboyant part.
Jake Millgard is sweet and understanding as the telephone repairman who gently counsels Corie that her broken phone/relationship can be repaired.
Re-creating the 1960s-era Upper East Side apartment in the round is a tricky job, particularly with so many hidden surprises tucked away, but scenic designer Tobin Ost has done a masterful job. And costume designer David Israel Reynoso has made the characters’ clothing classic and timeless.
Amanda Zieve designed lighting and Lindsay Jones designed sound.
Since 1965, the Old Globe has produced 12 Simon plays, including an earlier production of “Barefoot in the Park” back in 1968.
Not all of Simon’s plays have worn well with age, but “Barefoot” captures the spirit of discovery in new love and that’s eternal.
“Barefoot in the Park”
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. (No performances Aug. 25-26). Through Sept. 2.
Where: Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre,
Tickets: $30 and up
Phone: (619) 234-5623
--Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune