Acting superb in Columbian’s ‘Barefoot’

By The Mercury

A couple moves into the top floor of a brownstone in New York City. There is no heat and no bathtub, their furniture has yet to arrive, their landlord is in Florida, there is a hole in the skylight, and to top it all off, an intrusive mother waltzes in before anything is even ready to see.

This is how The Columbian Theatre’s production of “Barefoot in the Park” begins. The play, which runs until Feb. 17, chronicles the first week of married life between Corie, played by Diana Watts, and Paul Bratter, played by Richard Philbrook. It also features Corie’s mother, Ethel Banks, played by Christy Collette, and their eccentric upstairs neighbor, Victor Velasco, played by Kim Riley.

The first act focuses on Corie’s idea of the perfect married life. Her husband Paul isn’t so sold on the apartment, but it is apparent that he is also in love with Corie and is willing to deal with the dank surroundings and strange neighbors to make their marriage work. We are also introduced to Ethel, Corie’s mother, a proper former housewife from New Jersey. Corie sells her mother as overprotective and overbearing and times. In Corie’s mind, the best thing her mother could do is go out and live her life and stay out of Corie’s. She suggests that her mother travel but she insists that her life is to stay at home and in Corie’s life and notes that she will be visiting on Friday for dinner.

Enter the eccentric Mister Velasco, a man who climbs mountains and is a charmer of women. Corie is instantly interested in Velasco and sees an opportunity to get her mother out of the house and into the adventure. She lies to her mother about the Friday night dinner, saying that Paul’s parents will be joining when, in reality, she is setting up a blind date with Velasco. Utter chaos and hilarity ensues.

The play is an interesting look at marriage in the early stages. Corie and Paul bicker throughout the entire play about certain aspects of their personalities. Corie is more of a free spirit, one who demands walking barefoot in Washington Square Park in 17-degree weather, whereas Paul is more of a straight-laced attorney. Their personalities clash throughout the play, but somehow they always seem to come back to the same point: they love each other.

The real gem of the show is Velasco and Ethel. Seeing Velasco trying to seduce Corie’s mother is the best part of the show. He does it in a charming manner, and it just makes the audience like him more and more as the play progresses. Corie’s mother comes around as well, which is also refreshing to see.

The acting was superb all around, but a few actors in particular stood out. Riley’s portrayal of Velasco was astounding. Playing a character who could come off as creepy, Riley makes Velasco into a weird but charming kind of guy - more of an eccentric than a dirty old man. Velasco also hints throughout the play that he is from some part of Europe. Riley’s accent was spot on for that. It wasn’t super outlandish and seemed very natural, something that I feel is hard to pull off.

Philbrook was another gem when it came to the acting. His portrayal of Paul was near perfection. From him being flustered about not having a desk to calling his wife crazy for wanting to walk barefoot in the park, he was just high-strung enough to make it believable. He also plays a great drunk.

The female characters were also done well, though, at times, I found the acting of Watts to be somewhat overworked. She played up the immature side of Corie quite well but when it came to her being serious, I found it hard to divide to two sides of her character.

Collette’s characterization of Ethel was terrific. She really did sound like a housewife from New Jersey who hasn’t had a few laughs in a while. My favorite scene from her was her blind date with Velasco. In the first few minutes of the scene she doesn’t say much but her facial expressions could be a novel. Collette has been in many productions at Wamego’s Columbian and it shows in her ability to tell a story with her body language as well as her lines.

The play wraps itself up in a nice, tidy package. I found myself at times wondering if Corie and Paul would make it past the first two weeks of marriage. With two people so different, it seemed possible they wouldn’t. During one of the final parts of the play Paul makes the comment that “Even when I didn’t like you, I still loved you,” and I found this to be a theme throughout the play.

Even when the couple didn’t agree with each other, there was love, and even when Corie questions whether love is enough, it is apparent that with these characters, it definitely is.

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