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'Barefoot in the Park' ready to open at Peoria Players

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So can a marriage between two complete opposites work? In Neil Simon's world, at least as a playwright, yes it can once a few speed bumps are navigated.

The speed bumps he put into his classic comedy "Barefoot in the Park" when it debuted on Broadway 50 years ago are still relevant today, said Liz Landes Reed, who is directing the production at Peoria Players Theatre.

"The human element in this show is timeless, really. Some of the jokes may be dated but I think everybody will relate to the story," Reed said before a recent dress rehearsal.

"Barefoot in the Park" opens a seven-show run at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the theater on North University Street. Tickets are on sale for $12 for adults and $9 for those 18 and under and they can be reserved by calling 688-4473 or visiting www.peoriaplayers.org.

"Barefoot in the Park" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 6 and 13.

Reed was pleased to direct the show when asked by Peoria Players because she thinks it is one of Simon's best. "Also, I just love the time period. The early 1960s, when there was still an element of innocence in the world. Plus, I'm a sucker for a romantic comedy," she said.

 

The comedy in "Barefoot in the Park" lies largely in the conflicts between the main characters, Corrie and Paul Bratter, newlyweds recently moved into a tiny sixth-floor walkup apartment in New York City.

Corrie Bratter is a vivacious free spirit who loves the sense of adventure. Paul
Bratter is a straight-laced lawyer who doesn't understand his wife. Corie thinks her husband is boring and wants him to be more spontaneous.

Throw in another pair of opposites — Corie's conservative mother Ethel Banks and the Bratter's eccentric and spontaneous upstairs neighbor Mr. Velasco — and the confusion and comedy takes off.

"They are total opposites and all the conflicts that causes in life comes out. But it is cute and sweet how it all works out in the end," Reed said.

She doesn't feel she is giving anything away because "Barefoot in the Park" was made into a movie in 1967 that starred Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. Noting it was a popular movie that is still shown on television, Reed said it can be difficult for community theatre to escape comparisons, particularly to Redford and Fonda.

"I am very happy with my cast. They are giving me exactly what I asked for and then some. They are doing a wonderful job. It has been very easy to direct them to be able to counter each other. It helps that we started the process with a character assessment and went from there," Reed said.

Bob Connor is making his Peoria community theatre debut in the role of Paul Bratter. Prior, he'd done theatre in college, Reed said. "It has been fun to watch him grow with the part," she said.

Corrie Bratter is being portrayed by Kerri Rae Hinman, a veteran of many local community theatre productions, including Players and Corn Stock Theatre. She was seen this past summer in "The Foreigner" at Corn Stock, playing opposite professional actor Steve Vinovich, who was brought in as guest artist.

The role of Ethel Banks is portrayed by Donna Forbis and Mr. Velasco is played by Peoria Players favorite Curt Rowden.

Chuck McCoy and Jim Babrowski round out the cast with humorous turns as the telephone man and delivery man, respectively.

"This show needs good interaction between all the cast members and we have that with this cast," Reed said. "One of the great things about Neil Simon is that he understand human nature and knows how to take everyday situations and make you laugh."

Reed has directed many shows at Peoria Players and Corn Stock through the years, including "Mame" last year. She finds non-musicals easier when it comes to character development. "In a musical characterization can be limited when the character has to stop and sing. With a show like this, a director can really get into the nitty-gritty of the show, of the characters," she said.

Howard Gorman built the set, the simple and stark New York flat that the Bratters make into a home. The set includes a skylight that becomes a very integral part of the show.

Sandy Cheesman handled the period costumes and Nan Coleman the period props, a lot of which are needed for this show.

"I think it's going to be fun to expose younger people to some of these things from that period," Reed said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).