A new play is always fun for me. I try not to research a show before I see it (which explains why I sometimes miss errors in the description section of press releases.) I did know that Neil Simon, the author of The Odd Couple, Rumors, and the books for many great musicals like They're Playing Our Song, was also the author of Barefoot in the Park. I did know that the show is a romantic comedy set in New York City in the early sixties.
I also knew that the director and cast of this TheatreWorks New Milford's production had a rehearsal schedule that was greatly influenced by our recent snowy weather. Director Tim Libonate points out in his notes that "just like this masterpiece from Neil Simon, this journey has driven home that universal coping mechanism that connects us all...Humor." He goes on to promise a night of laughs...[with] six outstanding actors [who] portray six well-drawn characters, all of whom must leave their "comfort zones" in order to work things out for themselves and each other." And that is all I will say about the plot of this funny show.
The laughter of the full audience at opening night (for which I had a great complimentary seat) filled this unique venue and they clearly appreciated the performances by these six talented performers. After the show, the happy patrons headed to the lobby to enjoy an opening night reception that featured food mentioned in the script. TheatreWorks always does a great job with the post opening night gala which means free food and drink for all in attendance. They also generously invite seniors age 62 and over to a free preview of each new show before opening night.
If drivers set the GPS for 20 Elm St. Extension, New Milford, they can easily find the free parking lot behind this old theater. It worked well for me and I had the pleasure of greeting Rob and Tori Richanvsky on my way in. As I mingled with the post-show crowd, I noticed a binder on display containing reviews of TheatreWorks shows. I was honored to see that a few of my reviews were printed out and included with the rest.
Mr. Libonate has appeared on the TheatreWorks stage at total of 16 times; he has carefully cast the community theater actors in his solo directorial debut at this venue. He admits that this cast of six made his job easy, but he definitely left his mark on these four acts.
Jeff Savage played a delivery man (who he dubbed Seamus) that only appeared in the first act. I wish the script had given him more to do. Jonathan Ross played a telephone repair man that at least made another appearance in the second half of the play. Both of these guys did an amazing job with the running gag of climbing the stairs to a fifth floor walk up.
Kevin Sosbe, by day an adjunct professor at WCSU, played the loud neighbor Victor Velasco and commanded the stage. M.J. Hartell, a middle school English teacher at Talcott Mountain Academy, played the overbearing mother Mrs. Banks with plenty of physical comedy and charming pinpoint accuracy.
For the newlywed couple Paul and Corie Bratter, chemistry is surely required and Daniel R. Willey and Jessica Alex had that. He makes his TheatreWorks debut in this show, but he has a long resume of shows at Naugatuck's Phoenix Stage. He is the master of physical comedy and gets to reprise his amazing drunken performance that I last saw in Nuncrackers.
Ms. Alex lives in New York City and has many NYC and regional credits. Here she is luminous and charming in the role of the young wife and looked incredible in her wardrobe designed by Susan Pettibone. I look forward to seeing this lovely actress in other roles.
TheatreWorks always has impressive sets and this is no exception. It was cleverly designed by the director and Richard Pettibone. It was the first time in recent memory where it was obvious that the running crew needed the almost entire fifteen minute intermission to update the set for the second half of the show and they pulled it off. The set was effectively lit by Richard Pettibone and Scott Wyshynski. Glenn R. Couture painted the set and secured the numerous period props.
I enjoyed this Neil Simon work and especially the fine performances of this small cast. It definitely warmed up what was otherwise a very cold evening in New Milford. Go see it!BAREFOOT IN THE PARK runs March 1, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16. Curtain time is 8:00 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays, with two 2:00 p.m. Sunday matinees on March 9 and March 16. Tickets for all shows are $23 for reserved seating.