Why You Should See “Barefoot”.

I wrote to my friend Seth and said, “Are you gonna be there on Saturday? I really want to see you guys (even though I don’t want to see the play) and I just wanted to see if you’d be there.” When he replied, “If you don’t want to see the play, then maybe you shouldn’t” I realized that what I wrote was a little bit shitty.

But look, if I lie to my friends, I’ve lost the only currency in which we deal. I tried to explain it to him, saying “If you were playing Jesus in Godspell in Des Moines, I would fly to Iowa to see that, but I don’t necessarily want to see Godspell in Des Moines”, and I think he got what I was saying. There are three or four people that I love deeply who are members of GroundUp Productions, and I felt compelled to see their show, no matter what show it is.

“Barefoot In The Park” isn’t even an old warhorse, it’s just Neil Simon’s somewhat innocuous and terrifically dated play. I saw it on stage when I was twelve, and then I saw it again when I was about seventeen. And again when I was about twenty seven. Also, I’ve seen the movie several times. And I saw the filmed version of the stage play on HBO. And I’m fairly familiar with Neil Simon’s work, having had it slipped into my artistic diet the way manufacturers of chewy snacks sneak palm oil into my belly.

I didn’t dread going. I’m a whore, I love the theater, it’s like church for me. Every time I walk in to a theater, I’m closer to what other people describe when they talk about God, so there’s no way I could dread it. But something happened. When I walked in and sat down in the theater… suddenly, I was actually pretty excited. And for several good reasons.

One) If you call Neil Simon a genius, I’m not gonna argue with you, but if you try to tell me that Travis Mchale is *NOT* a genius, then you’ll have a fight on your hands. Unless you’ve done what I’ve done (and many of you have) then you’ll have no way of understanding just how magnificent a job he does. He’s responsible for both the sets and the lights, and I can tell you what happened when I walked into the theater at Manhattan Theatresource… I felt like I was in the one bedroom apartment in a fifth floor walk-up. I could feel the sun coming through the skylight.

I just simply don’t know how he does it, how the company does it. I have designed and built many of the rooms in my own *house*, and I know how to look for seams… and there are none.

We’re in a whole different world here, with off-off theater. If you throw a bench on stage and tell us it’s a couch, we buy it, completely. We have NO DOUBT that it’s a couch. So… how do they get miter cuts on their ceiling molding? How do they have a functioning sink on stage, how do they MAKE IT SNOW THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT?

It’s an aesthetic vision that belies the actual motivation behind the company. They are building their company with the longest of longviews, re-creating well established scripts for the patrons that find that exciting, but they are managing to do the actual *work* with a microscope, with out a single nail out of place.

Two) There is a bell curve that happens for most artists. Most of us begin with great enthusiasm and very little skill, and end up with enormous skill and very little enthusiasm. An actor gets this in spades, unfortunately – it’s no wonder that Aldonza and Fantine are such compelling female characters, they may be the closest an actress gets to playing herself – and by the time a person has the maturity and skill to really perform, they’ve often exhausted their own patience.

In this play are two stunning performances by actors that we normally don’t get to see on our humble stages. Eric Purcell is wonderful as Victor Vellasco and Amelia White is pitch-perfect as Mrs. Banks. She comes in to see her daughter’s new apartment, and it is the most wonderful stretch of acting… we *know* she hates the apartment, but she genuinely tries to convince her daughter that she *loves* it. And White doesn’t give a hint of a knowing look, not one. She looks in her daughter’s eyes and tells her she loves the place without a single askance glance at the floor or ceiling (all of which would have been for our – the audience’s- benefit)

When finally, after a drunken night of nonsense, the two of them begin to actually talk about growing old… there might not be a more honest piece of theater going up right now. You need to see this, you won’t be more than twenty feet away when they do it, and it’s a small piece of depth and civility in a city who’s theaters are over-run by roller skaters and French revolutionaries.

Three) My friend was at the play, sitting in the other audience bank, and heard the man behind him say “OH! Right! You know what else we’ve seen by this guy? LOST IN YONKERS! That’s this same guy!”

If you don’t know Neil Simon’s work, this is the quintessence of what he does. “The Goodbye Girl” and “I Ought To Be In Pictures” get really heavy with the one-liners, far more so than this does, and the great stretch of plays based on his own growing up are perhaps his masterpieces, but this play will teach you why the man is a genius, why we should all spend a minute or two at his knee.

And you won’t find a better production. World class performances inside a brilliant theater space… and it’s even one step better than that. The show is set in the same neighborhood (roughly) as it’s being performed. Geographically speaking, it might actually be the closest production ever to the fictional brownstone it’s set in. To hear them complain about the skyrocketing rent and the utterly insane neighbors, when there are actually neighbors UPSTAIRS FROM THE THEATER who are probably complaining about their skyrocketing rent and the insane theater company downstairs putting on a Neil Simon play… that’s pretty fantastic.

Go see it. You’ll be glad you did.