Barefoot in the Park: still relevant 40 years on

London Community Players takes on Neil Simon's classic play

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Barefeet in the Park

It’s the classic love story: boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl get married, boy and girl move into a microscopic New York City apartment and deal with crazy neighbours and an overbearing in-law.

Okay, so maybe the last part isn’t so timeless, but it’s bound to keep audiences interested as the London Community Players revives Neil Simon’s play Barefoot in the Park.

A wildly popular play during its original run in the 1960s, Barefoot in the Park follows young newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter as they embark on their new lives together. Along the way they encounter their nutty neighbour Victor Velasco, Corie’s busybody mother, faulty living conditions and the daunting task of making their marriage work.

“It’s a comedy about new love in a brand new marriage where the two people don’t know each other very well, and we kind of get a peek into their lives,” Debra Chantler, the show’s producer, explains.

The small, six-person cast stars two well-known London-area actors. Andrea Hutchison plays Corie, the free-spirited wife to Paul, the uptight, rigid, and down-to-business husband. With a dozen years of acting experience in neighbouring communities, Hutchison is especially excited to embark on the quirky role of Corie.

“I’m getting married in four months, and I’m seeing parallels in the script in my own life,” she says. Like Corie, Hutchison describes herself as a free-spirit and adds she was attracted to the role because of the character’s range. She explains Corie is both cute and bubbly, but is also drunk by the second act.

“It’s really neat to get to play a main role like that,” Hutchison says.

Matt Martin stars alongside Hutchison as Corie’s husband Paul. Well-known locally as an Elvis Presley impersonator, Martin will be venturing into new acting territory as the conservative and controlling lawyer.

“He’s usually the very ‘out there’ guy,” director Lesleigh Turner explains, “So it’s going to be awesome to see this difference in him.”

While Martin and Hutchison have not acted together before, both Chantler and Turner assure audiences are in for a treat with their onstage chemistry. “It’s really incredible,” Turner says.

An 18-year veteran of the London Community Players organization, Turner is set to make her solo full-length directorial debut in the Palace Theatre with Barefoot.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” Turner says. “I have this incredible creative team.”

Turner gives major kudos to her cast and crew, and explains she feels lucky to be working with such a motivated and cohesive group.

“They’ve all been searching auctions, antique places and Value Village so that when people have a look at the set it says 1960s and when they see the characters, it says 1960s, too,” Turner explains.

In charge of the ’60s New York City apartment set is Janice Johnson. Having just earned two Brickenden Awards " given out annually to recognize theatrical excellence in London " for her work in The Petrified Forest and Seascape, the set promises to be a realistic and impressive throwback.

“She’s done a really lovely job of making different heights. The actors have a lot of space to move around in,” Chantler explains, while also noting Johnson is in charge of creating the famous New York landscape the apartment windows will look out upon.

Another noteworthy aspect of the play’s atmosphere is the newly renovated Palace Theatre that will be the hosting venue. Currently undergoing a makeover, one of London’s oldest theatrical landmarks is transforming its look back to its original Vaudeville roots.

“The auditorium is going to be absolutely fabulously painted when it’s done. We’re excited about being the very first play [to perform in it],” Chantler explains.

Despite what Turner describes as a very period-specific play, she ensures Barefoot has universal appeal, and will leave audience members of all ages in stitches.

“It’s beautifully written,” she says. “And really, people don’t change. The things we fought about then, even though we think we’ve changed and moved forward, are the same.”

Chantler also notes our unchanging human nature is a major part of the play’s appeal. “It’s certainly relevant for today’s youth ... people are impulsive today still.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a night of pure entertainment? It’s just entertaining and bright and fun,” Turner says. “It’s going to pull you in and take you away.”

Barefoot in the Park debuted Feb. 29 at the Palace Theatre on Dundas St., with performances on March 1-2, and 6-8. Visit www.londoncommunityplayers.com for more information.

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