Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: 'Barefoot in the Park'

Neil Simon's dated comedy, at the Bucks County Playhouse where it began, comes off without charm or much pizazz. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews from New Hope, Pa.

Review: 'Barefoot in the Park'

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Lee Aaron Rosen and Virginia Veale in "Barefoot in the Park" at Bucks County Playhouse. Photo by Mandee Kuenzle.

By Howard Shapiro

After Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park hit Broadway in 1963, the then-sophisticated New York comedy ran 1,532 performances and became a popular movie. But time has ravished the formerly au courant Barefoot. A 2006 Broadway revival lasted a scant 135 curtains.

Still, there’s a special reason for the newly re-opened Bucks County Playhouse, once again professional, to produce Barefoot: The play is deep in its roots. The Playhouse was the tryout stage for Nobody Loves Me before it went to Broadway under its new Barefoot title. Portraying the young newlyweds at the play’s core, at the Playhouse world premiere and on Broadway, were Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley.

That was then. Now, it’s back, with all its wrinkles showing, plus more. One thing that can hold up well in the play is Simon’s chatty arc —  one-two punches of dialogue that made him a success — but not here. In this flat, charmless production directed by Sheryl Kaller (Broadway’s Next Fall), the tarnished Barefoot is brought up from the museum basement and put on display unpolished.

What went wrong? In the performance I saw Saturday night, a day after its opening, just about everything except for two energizing performances by its supporting cast. The trouble begins with Jim Noone’s impressive and deep set of a broken-down fifth-floor walkup, misused as the newlyweds play much of the first act so far to its rear, you feel like a voyeur.

Move on to our young husband, a new lawyer in a new marriage, played by Lee Aaron Rosen with a delivery that turns virtually all the laugh lines Simon gave him into foul-balls; you imagine, in his portrayal, the potential, and think: Hey! I heard that line before and it was actually funny! He comes off as nasty, dull and more of a fuddy-duddy than Simon intended him to be — not someone carrying a sheath of witty barbs.

His new wife, played by Virginia Veale, also begins as an unwelcome extreme — so giddily in love despite fears about the crummy flat she’s found, she appears to have no brain in the first act. By the second act, she’s inexplicably suddenly acquired one. Here, she taunts her husband with the notion of divorce, a development that in the play comes partly as a result of a night of drinking far too much ouzo. But in this production, the two are suddenly stone-cold sober, and we are summoning the ghost of Eugene O’Neill or maybe Tennessee Williams.

A heavy-handed Barefoot in the Park? Not altogether. It livens when the actress Candy Buckley (HBO’s Treme), despite looking too young as the bride’s mom, is onstage, and even more whenever the wonderful stage  and screen actor Jonathan Hadary (Spamalot and much more), appears as an oddball neighbor. Both actors work in the cadence and tone the play intends. 

Most nights, a different Bucks County community leader is set to come on in a non-speaking bit role. On Saturday night, he  was listed as Marvin L. Woodall, chairman of Bucks County’s Heritage Conservancy. His minute on stage generated more excitement than any other in the production.

Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727,, or #philastage on Twitter.


Barefoot in the Park: Through Sept. 2 at Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main St., New Hope. Tickets: $29-$54. Information: 215-862-2121 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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