The other night, I heard a jazz singer cover an old chestnut about how “wives should always be lovers, too.” An earworm from the “Mad Men” era, the song urges housebound spouses to stay foxy, “ready for love.” In 2015, the singer brought it off as a gag and tweaked the clichés as if she were Neil Simon.
“Who doesn’t love Neil Simon?” asks Tiffany Flory, the lead in the latest local production by the New York playwright. “Whatever the situation, he’ll find what’s funny in it.”
Yet the humor in “Barefoot in the Park,” in which Flory plays the new bride Corie Bratter, risks feeling dated. Back in 1963, the comedy totally crushed, to be sure. It won awards, ran for years, and the movie featured the gorgeous young Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Yet the drama depends on domestic roles straight out of “Mad Men.” Corie never dreams of going to work herself and expects her lawyer husband to not only be home for dinner but also, she tells him, “sexy.” In harried 21st century America, can this marriage survive?Absolutely, insist both Flory and director Mark Littlejohn.
“Simon’s humor is so intelligent,” says Flory. “Regardless of when the show takes place, the issues remain relevant.”
Littlejohn calls the play “timeless,” pointing out how “Barefoot” makes mention of “Our Town.” In Thorton Wilder’s classic, explains the director, “it’s the little things that matter. The stuff of ordinary life.”
“In any era, after you get married, you have to compromise. I mean, everybody has a mother-in-law,” adds Flory.
The in-law in “Barefoot,” Corie’s mother, would fit right in with today’s helicopter parents. She can’t resist a visit, even when it’s five flights of stairs up to the newlyweds’ Manhattan studio. Nor can Mama say “no” when her daughter invites her back for a cocktail party — an invitation that sets loose a barrel of monkeys.
Then, too, since the complications all result from Corie’s choices, this young woman shows real character. She isn’t just sitting around waiting for her hubby. In short, the trouble feels contemporary, as does the halting way the couple works things out.
Granted, the set features props from half a century back, like a brick of a fridge — a Norge — salvaged somewhere by designer Jim Stephenson. Stephenson has also built a number of step-ups or step-downs, just right for more funny business about stair climbing (a joke throughout) and for pratfalls.
Better yet, even in rehearsal, there was chemistry brewing between the two leads. Flory, a Cloris winner last year, has been paired up with a relative newcomer, Adam Beilgard. Yet their director claims that even during auditions, he could feel how well these two worked together. Littlejohn could sense he might have a winner on his hands.
“A great show,” he says, “is always a mutual act of creation.”
Overheard in the Lobby: “Caucus: The Musical,” the hit from local playwright Robert John Ford, has been updated for next January at the Stoner. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.