TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – Just married six days before and fresh off their honeymoon, a couple is moving into a dumpy fifth-floor walkup apartment in New York City. The wife has picked out the place sight unseen by her unsuspecting husband.
Huh? Unseen? That’s the first sign Neil Simon, a maestro of mirth, has taken liberties with sense for the sake of a situation ripe for laughs.
The first moments reveal one of his techniques. Byplay is like a tennis match of verbal bon bons.
In this, Corie, the wife, is upbeat – cheery beyond cheery – first to a telephone installer and then to her husband, Paul.
No heat (it’s February), broken window – that’s just for starters for the apartment’s failings.
The men are mystified by Corie’s enthusiasm about everything.
To the husband, Paul, she lobs… “You’re almost nearly perfect!”
He answers… “That’s a rotten thing to say.”
Such is “Barefoot in the Park,” which has had a rollercoaster ride its production by The Forst Inn Arts Collective. Up: It opens to a sellout. Down: A performance is canceled due to illness in the cast. Up: Performances resume, with some add-ons, with two of the three remaining performances sold out.
The play is from 1963. It’s dated, but not.
Dating: The Telephone Installer bit. A Princess Phone – with cords and wall outlet and everything – is being installed. Music played during the opening and scene changes helps place the time: Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” Brian Hylan’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and Elvis Presley’s “Stuck on You” and more.
Not dated: Most everything else. The fresh love of newlyweds, the it’s great aura about their first very lacking place, an upbeat mother, a disaster in the waiting from a night out with volumes of liquor and more.
With director Michael Sheeks finessing the energies, the cast brightens the stage with the Neil Simon style comedy.
Grace Sergott is 1,000 watts in the two sides of Corie. She’s wholly on whether upbeat with Corie’s mother and husband or a kind of Creature from the Black Lagoon in a hellish hangover. Very nimble all the way.
Judging by the program biographies, playing a couple suits Grace Sergott and Blaine Rezach as Paul, the husband, a steady-as-you go rookie attorney. There’s a warmth. Blaine Rezach also portrays two sides well – the neatness of a person in control and the mess from being a too-close companion with a fellow named Jack Daniels.
Carrie Todd Counihan expertly maneuvers around the shadings of Corie’s single mother, Ethel. While spotting all the crummy stuff in the apartment, Ethel puts on a happy face and finds positives as a protective mom. And then there are the colorful happenings with HER man, though she doesn’t know it as first.
Victor Velasco, the guy upstairs, is that man. Martin Schaller, in an effusive wig, plays up Mr. Velasco’s larger-than-life, care-free flamboyance that sweeps others into daring currents. Ethel especially gets caught up in Mr. Velasco’s over-the-top escapades.
Corey McElroy has fun with Neil Simon’s fun with the Telephone Technician character. Corey McElroy deadpans is way, twice, through the quiet wisdom of a witness to other people’s problems.
The performance space is something of a character, too. It doesn’t take much to imagine it as a make-do apartment with a fresh coat of paint.
Hmm. Corie has managed to paint the entire place – humorously, a commanding purple – while Paul has been at work for the day. Could happen – like renting the place with no input from the husband – in a skip-the-details Neil Simon comedy.
Running time: Two hours, 34 minutes
Remaining performances: 4 p.m. Nov. 19 (sold out); 2 p.m. Nov. 20 (sold out) and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 20.
Creative: Playwright – Neil Simon; stage direction, technical design – Michael Sheeks; costume design – Claran LaViolette; stage management – Lisa Heili
Cast (in order of appearance):
Corie Bratter – Grace Sergott
Telephone Technician – Corey McElroy
Mover, Delivery Person – Dennis Schneider
Paul Bratter – Blaine Rezach
Ethel Banks – Carrie Todd Counihan
Victor Velasco – Martin Schaller
NEXT: “A Mistletoe Musings Christmas Carol,” Dec. 2-18.
THE VENUE: The historic Forst Inn is located at the corner of Kewaunee County roads B and BB in Tisch Mills. The building dates to 1868, and it has led assorted lives over the years. For a notable period – 1990 into the 2000s – the place was popular for productions of Little Sandwich Theatre, which Manitowoc attorney Ron Kaminski (deceased 2018) nurtured with a caring hand as artistic director/performer/do-all for a wide array of productions. The present venture is of that spirit. The stage is wide and narrow. The space is intimate. Seating is at small tables on two levels in a slight arc in front of the slightly raised stage. To the audience’s rear is the stage director’s space, with light and sound controls. The space is essentially a black box in theater style in the front – with additions: two chandeliers above the audience, a street lamp the seating area and the ambiance of 1920s style elements to the rear in a service area. A seating/serving area is in the middle of the building, along with a ticketing counter. The bar area out front includes the bar, table seating, more 1920s ambiance and a passage to an art gallery (rotating artists) that is now part of the offerings of The Forst Inn Arts Collective overseen by executive director Michael Sheeks, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus in Manitowoc.