In a small apartment in NYC, two lovebirds have moved in to start a life together. Paul and Corie have everything they could have dreamed of: passion, infatuation and lots of communication. They also have very small living quarters that at times can be claustrophobic. Add to it a surprise visit from Corie’s mother, Ethel, and an upstairs neighbor, Victor Velasco, with whom the newlyweds try to match-make, and some absurd comedy gets its footing in the Neil Simon classic, “Barefoot in the Park.” Directed by James Bowling, Thalian Association will open the show Thursday night at the intimate Red Barn Studio Theatre (1122 S 3rd St.), with set design by Lance Howell.
“There are so many little details and items, from random costume elements, to ‘hallways’ created out the main entrance to give the impression of an expansive house of apartments, to knick knacks that highlight the sudden convergence of two people into one life,”tells Josh Bailey, who plays Paul. “There has been a lot of careful attention to detail in the small Red Barn space.”
Most folks likely remember the 1963 production, which starred Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley on Broadway, and was directed by Mike Nichols—which garnered a Tony for Nichols. “Barefoot in the Park” hit the big screen in ’67 with Redford in the title role and Jane Fonda taking on his wife, Corie.
encore interviewed the current castmates of the show, Josh Bailey, Amanda Young and Steve Rassin, to get a little more insight into their characters and the local adaptation of the Simon classic. “Barefoot in the Park” will run Mar. 9-26, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. or on Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at www.thalian.org.
encore (e): Tell me how you interpret the play’s take on love in its early stages. What makes it so timeless?
Josh Bailey (JB): Simon really grasps the crazy speed with which a couple can go from the rose-colored glasses early stages of a relationship to realizing those glasses have been hiding a lot of things that are potentially earth-shattering. I think everyone has been in a relationship where they glossed over some pretty obvious and glaring faults within a person just because they thought the person was hot or sexy or the passion was so intense. So then it’s always this question of can true love blossom from the early lust, or will they fall apart?
Amanda Young (AY): To me, this play captures the “my partner can do no wrong” mentality that we so easily fall into right at the beginning, particularly as it pertains to Corie. She is so blinded by that glittery, exciting beginning of love that she isn’t aware of the importance of the true builders of a great relationship—openness, flexibility and forgiveness. I think that’s something we can all relate to.
Steve Rassin (SR): The play is a great illustration of how individual people can see the beauty in another and find love. It also transcends into our interactions with anyone we have or meet in our lives: different doesn’t mean you can’t find common ground.
e: What appeals to you most about this Simon classic? What’s most endearing, funny and appealing in his dialogue in your opinion?
JB: It’s very real. Neil Simon is often almost absurd in the level of comedy or insanity, but this one, while definitely having its crazy or absurd moments, is, at it’s heart, a very true representation of love and family. Personally, for Paul, I’m in love with the dry humor and quick one-liners that are his go-to comedic form, but I also love the more verbose and physical comedy other characters get to play with.
AY: “Barefoot in the Park” is incredibly playful and full of Simon’s classic, rapid-fire dialogue. I absolutely love learning Neil Simon’s lines. They are so conversational and easy, they have a way of just sticking in my brain. Barefoot in particular has some incredible conversation- great exchanges between Corie and Paul, Corie and her mother, Velasco and mother, etc. More importantly though, I think Barefoot has some really heavy moments, and a lot of great lessons about personal growth. Simon has written these incredibly precise moments in which the tone just completely shifts. That’s just so much fun to perform.
SR: Neil Simon’s works are relatable to almost everyone! He writes in real-time conversations where you can visualize yourself involved in it.
e: Tell me something intimate about your character—perhaps not immediately noticeable to audiences but certainly something that drives your portrayal of him/her?
JB: Paul is very interesting because I get the impression that everything has really worked out for him his whole life. Everything has always made sense, and in the first days of his relationship with Corie, everything still made a lot of sense. I really think this is the first time in his life he’s found himself “out of his element,” and dealing with that feeling of being off-kilter and trying to navigate such very different world views is a lot of fun to try to act and communicate daily.
AY: At the risk of sounding too Freudian, Denise Daughtry and I discussed the lack of mention of Corie’s father in the script, and both felt that her father was probably deceased. In exploring this further, it became clear that Corie’s intense desire to make Paul happy probably ties into this at some point.
SR: Victor wants a connection and wants to be his age. He still has an enormous appetite for life and it’s adventures. But he finds peace in Ethel.
e: How do you differ from your character and how are you alike? What are you learning from him/her?
JB: I often find myself playing characters a lot like me, but none so much as Paul. I think in a lot of ways this is me getting to play myself in a different time period and profession and circumstance.
AY: I find a lot in common with Corie, actually. I too am sometimes blindly optimistic, and all too often adopt a “we’ll figure it out” approach to things that may be better discussed and planned for. Honestly, I have a hard time thinking of significant ways in which we differ, save her relationship with her mother. I am much closer to mine.
SR: He is heavier than I am. It’s just “stage fat.”
e: Considering the play’s heft of talent that founded it, including director Mike Nichols and Redford as a mega heartthrob, do you feel pressure to live up to people’s expectations of the show? How are you making it your own?
JB: I’m not sure I’ve felt any pressure about any “expectations” before. I’ve loved this play a long time–it’s definitely one of my favorite of Simon’s work–so in a lot of ways, it’s having to live up more to the expectations I’ve placed on it myself over time. Plus, I mean, I’m basically Robert Redford, right? No? Okay…. To make it my own I haven’t re-watched the film, which I saw back ten years ago in college, and I’m just trying to approach every scene from this idea of “how would Paul realistically react in this moment…how would he feel?” I’m internalizing a lot instead of trying to think about what has been done before.
AY: Well, when Jane Fonda played the same role on the big screen, there’s a touch of pressure. I always have a rule that I don’t watch any interpretation (stage, film, etc.) of a show that I’m doing until after it closes. I have tried to just find the Corie who I got to know from minute one of reading the script: a naive, bubbly Pollyanna who wreaks a little havoc before learning the important lessons of the show.
SR: Not at all! You can’t do a role using imitation of someone else. There have been many other Victor Velascos prior and will be many more in the future.
e: What is your favorite scene and why? What does it tell about the show overall?
JB: I have a lot of favorite scenes…but one of the best for understanding the show overall happens the moment Paul comes to the new apartment for the first time. There’s just this magical warmth and love and excitement, but you can slowly feel the air being let out of the balloon throughout the course of the scene as things just precipitously decline. It’s a really kind of “fast forward” of what happens naturally in relationships over time, but it definitely highlights the theme of the play on how love changes and transforms and has to bend so it doesn’t break with those changes.
AY: I think Corie and Paul’s big fight is my favorite scene. It’s a complete roller coaster, and performing it opposite someone I trust as much as Josh really allows me to relax and let it flow.
SR: The blind date scene is hilarious! It’s fun to perform and funny as well!