If you’re looking for high-quality, low cost evening of entertainment then grab a carload of friends and check out Starting Gate Productions’ Barefoot in the Park, running through November 30th at the historic Mounds Theatre in Saint Paul. Neil Simon’s hit Broadway play/Mike Nichols directed feature film about new love, new life and new experiences is brought to the stage with such painstaking attention to detail and quality performance that will forget the trappings of your modern routine and find yourself transported to mid-sixties Manhattan.
The comedic, three-act play focuses on the early weeks of newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter, as they settle into a minuscule fifth-floor walkup apartment in New York City. Paul is a straight-laced attorney while Corie is the free spirited yang to his yin. Think of them as the original Dharma & Greg without the annoying, yuppie overtones. The two must contend with a lack of heat, a skylight with a gaping hole, several long flights of stairs and an eccentric but warm neighbor Victor Velasco, whom they attempt to romantically set up with Corie’s well-meaning mother, Ethel.
Robert Gardner and Cynthia Uhrich fill the supporting roles of Victor and Ethel with personality, charm and a genuine quirkiness that is simultaneously hilarious and relatable. Nicholas Leeman’s portrayal of stuffed-shirted Paul Bratter is phenomenal. A ComedySportz regular and young veteran of the theater, Nicholas knows and demonstrates the very definition of comic timing and stage presence. Had he been born a few decades earlier, Mr. Leeman would’ve given Robert Redford some very stiff competition for the role.
The play however belongs to Jane Froiland’s portrayal of Corie Bratter. Over the past two years, I’d been aware of the vivacious, blonde’s contributions to the Twin Cities’ theatre community, and even got to know her socially, but this was the first time I’d ever seen her work. I can say with all objective honesty that after a decade in the creative industry, there have been few, if any performances that could be truly described as perfect. This was such a performance. Every emotion and action was meticulously and magnificently executed. It was the kind of acting that inspires others to take up the craft.
This review would be criminally negligent if I didn’t throw innumerous kudos to award-winning director Richard Jackson who first directed Barefoot in the Park nearly thirty years ago. If the devil is in the details, then Mr. Jackson must have a pitchfork or two lying around. By focusing on the subtlety and sincerity of the characters, Richard Jackson allowed the plot and performers to breathe and flow with a pace and rhythm that will appeal to all audiences.
Barefoot in the Park is the first of three productions for the 2008-2009 season of Starting Gate Productions. For tickets, show times and further information visit www.startinggate.org or call (651) 645-3503.
Taylor Cisco, III (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a political essayist, newswriter and producer. A Chicago native, he currently resides in St. Louis Park and teaches Media Arts at Dunwoody Academy in Minneapolis.