KEARNEY — Try as they may, Paul and Corie mix like oil and water.
He’s a by-the-book young lawyer eager to make his mark with his first court case. She’s a free spirit who wants to focus on the hip life of the 1960s. Neil Simon’s play, “Barefoot in the Park,” follows the newlywed couple as they move into their first apartment, a five-floor walk-up nestled into the top floor of a shabby building in New York City.
Written and set in the 1960s, this comedy very well could be displayed as a museum piece featuring the old premise that opposites attract. Yet, Kearney Community Theatre’s presentation of the play sparkles with joy, humor, eccentric personalities, loud pants and the desire to see the couple succeed as they come to grips with life together.
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This jewel of a comedy examines life in the minutes and hours after the honeymoon has ended.
Kearney Community Theatre presents “Barefoot in the Park” written by Neil Simon and directed by Samuel Ratzlaff, continuing today through Oct. 13 at the theater at 83 Plaza Blvd. Admission is $18.
Jordan Kitzelman portrays Corie as a frenetic new wife, trying to please everyone and at the same time carve out a little space for her own desires. She flits from one chore to another. To Corie, the garish green walls of the apartment look wonderful. To everyone else, including the audience, the color makes our teeth hurt.
As Paul, Jason Kirkover brings a well-honed comedic timing to the show. He knows how to wait for a beat until he delivers a well-deserved punch line. Kirkover can summon a laugh from merely eating an appetizer.
On the surface, Paul and Corie resemble oil and water. Underneath, when we see them rolling on the floor in a passionate embrace, we can look beyond the surface and see what attracted them to each other in the first place. Kirkover and Kitzelman provide the appropriate chemistry to make the audience root for them to succeed.
Much of the credit for this show goes to Ratzlaff and his direction. The results make it clear that Ratzlaff understands how comedy works. He knows how to paint pictures with the blocking, how to pace the humor and how to develop characters with depth and sincerity — just before a joke arrives.
And then there is Rick Smith.
In the role of Victor Velasco, Smith provides a character seeped in his own self-importance, yet humble and kind when it serves him best. He plays the part with an unidentifiable accent that gives him a certain localized worldliness. A certified know-it-all, Victor feels obligated to share his knowledge with whoever might be standing near him. He identifies himself as a Don Juan living at an awkward age — 58.
Smith plays the part with hilarious detail, exquisite timing and a deadpan seriousness that adds a great deal to the entire show.
Younger audience members might benefit from a quick review of the 1960s so terms like “rat fink” will make sense. Those who lived in the 1960s will understand the humor when Victor looks at Corie’s apartment and says, “What are you, a folk singer?” Back then that term meant something different than a compliment.
While the situation, characters and humor come straight from the playwright, the execution of “Barefoot in the Park” comes from the delightful cast and crew. Look for fine performances by Phyllis Haverkamp as Corie’s mother, Michael Kenton as Harry Pepper, Roy Lawton as the delivery man and Derek Boeckner as Mr. Munshin. These performers know how to work together as an ensemble to ring out the laughs and to stir the pot so the oil and the water have a chance to mix.
Ratzlaff’s use of music by The Beatles during scene transitions, along with projected photographic images, helps keep the show moving. And kudos to set designer Dave Rozema for creating an apartment that projects its own humor.
A final word must be said for the costuming, headed by Stacey Wood.
While audience members might cringe at the loud pants worn — especially by Corie and Victor — each of us of a certain age wore similar clothing back in the day, back when bell-bottomed pants made a loud and unmistakable statement.
This attention to detail makes “Barefoot in the Park” more than a museum piece, more than a light and breezy rom-com. The laughs, the emotions, the situations and the opposite personalities all come together to make this comedy a reminder of how it felt after the excitement of the honeymoon faded away, replaced by real life.