‘Barefoot in the Park’ takes a frothy look at young newlyweds

By Liz Keill

CHATHAM, NJ – The Chatham Players has opened its 96th season with an early Neil Simon favorite, “Barefoot in the Park.”

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Originally on Broadway in 1963 with Elizabeth Ashley and Robert Redford, the play became a popular movie with Redford and Jane Fonda.

In Chatham, we have Crystal Ann Bennett as Corie Bratter and Matthew Cronin as Paul.  The two are convincing as the buttoned-up husband and lawyer, Paul, and the free spirited Corie. Before long their styles clash and, although their first fight ends in determination to divorce, love eventually conquers all.

Joyce Slous as Corie’s mother, Ethel, is droll with her one liners and complaints to her daughter. Her reaction to their five-flight New York City walk-up is priceless. And she’s not the only one. Harry Pepper, the telephone installer, is also breathless when he arrives. Dominick J. DeNucci is convincing as the repairman who spots true love when he sees it. Chip Prestera (alternating with Howard Fischer) appears as a delivery man, also hilariously out of breath. The only one who doesn’t seem to mind the climb is Corie and perhaps her exuberance makes her immune to the stairs, the limits of the apartment and everything else.

It seems their aerie has a hole in the skylight, no heat, no bathtub and a bedroom that will only accommodate a single bed that you need to climb over to get to the closet. Fortunately, we only see the living room. Sean McCarthy’s set design is a stunning shift from a barren opening scene to later when the furniture arrives.

They’re aided in decorating by Victor Velasco, played with panache by Arnold Buchiane. Corie thinks her mother might connect with this bon vivant, so arranges a Friday night dinner. Needless to say, a series of unforeseen events end up with Ethel in Victor’s bathrobe and various tales of woe. But it’s clear to see these two will find pleasure in each other’s company.

Michael J. Hegarty has directed this light hearted romp with flair. As so often happens with Simon’s comedies, there’s an element of truth and character study despite the light banter. Costumes by Beverly Wand and original music by Joe DeVico add to the spirit of joie de vivre in this production.

“Barefoot in the Park” continues at The Chatham Playhouse, located on 23 North Passaic Avenue in Chatham, through Oct. 21. For tickets, call 973-635-7363 or visit ChathamPlayers.org.