I welcomed in the new year with a shudder and a sigh, because 2005 is the year that Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park will return to Broadway. As if that weren't enough, we have, right now in lovely Phoenix, two productions of this hoary old comedy playing concurrently, which is why I plan to spend the next several weeks hiding under the bed.
There are so many reasons reviving Barefoot in the Park scares me enough to cower under furniture, and several of them might well frighten you, too. To wit:
The script is hopelessly dated. Corie Bratter shocked theatergoers (and later movie audiences) by appearing in her first scene clad only in her husband's dress shirt. Today she could walk onstage naked with a feather sticking out of her ass and no one would notice. And how about the fact that pages of this script are given over to nonsense about the Bratters' newfangled Princess phone, with its mile-long cord? Or the show's deeply sexist marital relationship? Updating the script doesn't work, since it's a show about a young woman who's a failure because she's headstrong and can't cook, and not updating it seems pointless, because if we're going to look back on kooky '60s newlyweds, why not look back on funny ones? (What's Up, Doc?, anyone?)
Enough is enough. The original production of Barefoot in the Park opened on Broadway in October of 1963 and ran through June of 1967, playing a total of 1,530 performances. It's been revived at least once by pretty much every theater company in existence, which means it's been produced roughly 74 million times in 40 years -- second only to Our Town, which is at least worthy of a look-see.
Neil Simon isn't funny, no matter what anyone tells you. So there.
Barefoot in the Park is insulting to women. Perky newlywed Corie's only desire is to be a perfect wife and please her husband. Her concerns never go beyond the walls of her home, where she's struggling to learn various housekeeping chores, the very thought of which was considered hilarious 40 years ago. Did she go to college? Does she plan to have a career -- or a baby -- once she figures out the toaster oven? She's a vessel, and not a particularly funny one, at that.
Mildred Natwick is dead. Among the more lamentable community theater productions of this show I've seen is one in which a 20-year-old played Victor Velasco, the eccentric upstairs neighbor, while the young just-marrieds were portrayed by a pair of actors who hadn't seen 30 very recently. Barefoot in the Park is one of those stories whose film cast -- many of whom appeared in the original Broadway production -- is so fixed in our minds that we can't imagine anyone else playing the zany funsters who populate it. Victor, therefore, will always be Charles Boyer, who was about a thousand years old when the movie was shot, and Corie's mother, Ethel, will always be the wonderful Mildred Natwick, at least in my mind. And I don't even like this show.
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