Oct 13, 2012 / 3:30 pm
To begin the tenth anniversary season at the Kelowna Actors Studio it is fitting that they present the same production that christened the very same theatre ten years before with Neil Simon’s play Barefoot in the Park. The theatre is a buzz for their first Friday night performance of the season and the stage is empty except for some boxes, luggage and some painting supplies including a ladder. The same could not be said for the crowd which by show time was near capacity and the buzz of excitement, undeniable.
The show opens with a familiar song playing through the speakers, Petula Clark’s Downtown which was a number one hit in the US in 1964 when the play takes place. A joyful young lady dances into the empty New York apartment to start the show. The young lady is Corie Bratter and is played by Rene Fulford, a role she is reprising from the opening show ten years ago in the very same theatre. Corie is a young and naïve newlywed who along with her husband Paul Bratter, played by Nate Flavel, carry a large part of the production on their shoulders.
The honeymoon is over and this is the beginning of married life for the young couple, a conservative new lawyer in Paul and his free-spirited wife Corie. The characters are opposites in many ways, and that is clear from the get go as Fulford leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that Corie is as naïve as they come, trying so hard to make everything perfect for her new husband even though it is clear there are many concerns with their new apartment. Flavel plays the conservative but loving young husband perfectly, pointing out his concerns but never forgetting how in love with Corie Paul is and thus, letting most of them slide. Corie and Paul might be very different personality types, but the chemistry between them is never in doubt, due to the strong performances of the lead actors.
The play is lighthearted and fun as throughout the opening act as we get to know this young couple but the action really takes off and so do the laughs with the introduction of its final two characters. Ethel Banks is Corie’s mother who makes a surprise visit to the new apartment. The character, who I imagine Vivian Hughes was excited to play, is quite conservative like Paul but still garners a great deal of laughter from the crowd with some great comedic timing. Corie believes her mother needs to spice up her life with some love of her own and after meeting the character you know this can only create more humour moving forward. So who will be the lucky man?
Victor Velasco, the upstairs neighbor, a unique man who can’t afford his rent and is forced to sneak into his home on a ladder or through Corie and Paul’s bedroom window and onto a ledge. Victor, played by Ron Green, shows up late in the first act but in his short time on stage becomes a crowd favourite.
Green portrays a confident, eccentric and almost dirty old man so well he creates laughs in almost every minute spent on stage. The energy in the whole theatre is taken to the next level from the moment Velasco hits the stage and you can see right away on Green’s face he is feeling the energy and using it to bring Velasco to life.
Set in just a simple one room apartment that incredibly gets fully furnished by a small moving company in the short 20 minute intermission, the production covers a great deal of life lessons about relationships, young and old, and the compromise that comes with them. The newlyweds learn that a life of loving and living with one person is not all fun and games, and the older folks learn that they still have a lot to offer and don’t need to be alone. As the couples spend a wild night on the town together it is what happens in the apartment that teaches them all something about themselves, something they needed to learn to make their relationships work. While the laughter rolls on throughout the production, the lessons are not overshadowed at all when it wraps up. It is a small cast of just six including Harry Pepper, the lovable phone repair man played so perfectly by Brandon Shalansky and the young man in the parka who arrives with wedding gifts early in the show played by director James Long in a role he also reprises from ten years ago; however, they succeed in every way in demonstrating the ups and downs that come with any relationship and the joys that can ultimately come from them if we just learn to love, listen and learn from each other.
Barefoot in the Park appears to be just the first in a season that will be filled with quality productions and thought provoking performances from a theatre company that clearly knows what they are doing. To the cast, the crew and the wonderful and polite front of house staff that combined to make this evening such a joy I say thank you and congratulations on ten great years. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the 10th anniversary season has in store.
(Barefoot in the Park runs Wednesday to Sunday evenings with Saturday matinees until October 27th. Tickets still available and can be purchased at www.kelownaactorsstudio.com)
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