'Barefoot in The Park' a charmer

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Under the quick and witty direction of Jenn Thompson, Simon's play never lags, slows down or hits a bump. I felt I was watching a live sitcom, complete with guffaws from a live studio audience. The laughter that exploded during the first scene showed why this 50 year-old Broadway comedy, that starred Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley, ran for over 1500 performances and won a Tony Award.

The curtain opens. The lights come up and we see an empty New York apartment. Energized by a wonderful, five day honeymoon, Shires, Corie Bratter, enters levitating off the floor powered by her lust for life. With a bouquet of flowers, her ultimate joy and optimism cascades over the audience. Within minutes the bell buzzes and in walks, or should I say stumbles, Tom Ferguson as the Telephone Repair Man.

With his riotous entrance, we are introduced to the first of many hurdles this apartment and marriage will soon experience. Corie has rented a small fifth floor walk up, six if you include the front stoop and each characters entrance makes you believe they are in need of an oxygen mask. Next enters the Delivery Man, portrayed by Evan Thompson with such clarity of breathlessness that not one word is uttered and the audience is in stitches. Soon, her husband, Paul Bratter, played with uptight, comedic intensity by Tony Roach, stumbles under similar duress followed shortly by Corie's Mother, Mrs. Banks, played with great fun and comedic mastery by Amelia White. Before the audience can take a breath from laughing, the final character of the evening, Geoffrey Wade's eccentric, lovable and quirky upstairs neighbor, Victor Velasco enters the fray and the stage is set.

With all the characters in place, off we go on a three act sprint as different outlooks upon life are revealed, celebrated and judged.

Lesley Shires effervescence, lightness and dramatic strength complimented Tony Roach's comedic flair and physical comedy, as these two lovestruck newlyweds negotiate married life. Add to their dilemma a broken skylight, a bedroom that barely fits a single bed, an uptight mother, a crazy neighbor, no heat in the middle of winter and sparks soon turn to flames and light up the stage. This cast was on fire. Not even the torrent of laughter could douse their comedic heat as they found themselves in situations of misunderstanding and perceived misconduct. People get together, people separate, some adjust, others...well, I won't tell you everything that happens, it would just spoil the surprises. You've got to get tickets to see it.

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The situations and banter are classic Neil Simon and solidify why he was one of the best comedy writers for stage, screen and TV. He had a knack for writing complex characters and relationships that audiences identified with and responded to.

Speaking of relationships you have to love a show where there are as many family relationships off stage as on. It's like six degrees of Kevin Bacon, so pay attention. Jenn Thomas directed her father Evan Thompson, her good friends and couple Amelia White and Geoffrey Wade, while working with her husband sound designer Stephen Kunken, whose choice of music and sound effects helped to create the feel and style of Jenn Thomas' vision.

The success of this production also lies with it's design team, notably the fantastic scenery of Kevin Judge. When the second act opened with a fully decorated apartment, one could hear gasps of joy as the majority of the audience was transported back in time.

Incredible costumes by Teresa Snider-Stein and her attention to detail brought to life the bygone era of the 1960's, while Michael Giannetti's lighting supported and illuminated the action of the piece.

So if you want to laugh till your sides split, I plead with you, get tickets today. "Barefoot in the Park" runs from July 25 through August 10 with evening performances at 8 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday and some Tuesdays. Matinees will be staged at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays, Sundays and some Saturdays.

For tickets call the box office at802-867-2223 or online at dorsettheatrefestival.org.


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