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Barefoot in the Park

Review by Ann Thurlow 

One of the most fun things you can do at the theatre is watch an actor fully inhabit his role while at the same time giving a sly wink to the audience. Sure, he’s going to offer you the straight goods, but also knows his character is wacky and he doesn’t mind sharing the fact.

It takes a good actor to pull that off and, in Watermark Theatre’s production of Barefoot in the Park, that’s Ian Deakin. He plays the kooky, yet oddly a little sad upstairs neighbor to newlyweds Paul and Corie Bratter (Jordan Campbell, Leah Pritchard). Don’t get me wrong — they’re really good, too. But Deakin kicks it up a notch and it’s fun to watch.

The play is vintage Neil Simon — a comedy about relationships, full of zingy dialogue and zany antics. We meet the newlyweds as they’re moving into their first apartment. Pritchard plays Corie with a kind of manic excitement and some great physical comedy and that’s infectious; we’re rooting for her new furniture to arrive and the hole in the roof to be fixed. By the third act the mania starts to wear a bit. But Corie is drunk by that point so maybe it’s excusable. 

Husband Paul (Campbell) is her perfect foil — he’s a straight-laced young lawyer who’s wrapped up in his career; hence the tension in the story. Another great foil is Jerry Getty, who plays the telephone repair man. It’s a small part, but Getty is great; his wry observations give voice to what people in the audience are thinking.

Perennial favourite Gracie Finley is back to play Corie’s mother, Ethel Banks. No one delivers a one-liner better than she does and I’d pay good money just to watch her do a double take. In the small business of her part she’s great. But in the big picture — who is Ethel, anyway — she’s a bit inconsistent.

Special mention to set designer Bill Layton for creating a rundown New York apartment in such a small space and finding the props (the play takes place in the sixties) to inhabit it. And double kudos to Bonnie Deakin for the sixties style costumes. A Mondrian sweater! A pillbox hat! No idea how she dug them up, but they’re terrific.

Will Barefoot in the Park change your life? Of course not — it’s a Neil Simon play, it’s not meant to. But the Watermark is the very most comfortable place to watch a show in the province. You’re in the hands of an accomplished cast and crew. You’ll relax, you’ll laugh and maybe, somewhat ruefully, you’ll relate.

You’ll have a great summer evening and that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen.

—Select dates at Watermark Theatre. Tickets/info at watermarktheatre.com.

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