Only a deft, well-nuanced performance by Cindy Peterson, some good line zingers by Ryan Mooney, a memorable cameo by Pat McDermott, a fine set by Dave Carroll and era-evocative sound design by Ryan Elliott, Gordon Mantle and Marko Hohlbein redeem the current White Rock Players Club production of Barefoot in the Park.
Neil Simon’s light-as-air early-’60s comedy – about the misadventures of a newlywed couple in their first apartment in Greenwich Village – would seem indestructible, but usually reliable director Hohlbein has made the odd decision to spin a 45rpm hit at a groove-grindingly slow 33⅓.
Biggest drawback of the current production, however, is miscasting – and that’s the kind of problem that the best efforts of all concerned can’t overcome.
Rebecca Strom is clearly a player of ability, but she seems ill-at-ease with Corie, the new bride, unable to summon a light touch or suggest any of the endearing kookiness Simon’s script calls for. Her scenes only come to life in the more-angry exchanges with Mooney as overly starchy husband Paul, suggesting she’s much more at home with drama.
Mooney has an undeniable way with a wry, dry comedic line, but he doesn’t succeed in making Paul likeable in spite of his stuffiness.
Mooney and Strom have no chemistry to speak of, and for a show that hinges on the audience rooting for the young couple – in spite of their differences and the surreal liabilities of their overpriced apartment – this has to be a fatal flaw.
Peterson – a joy to watch as Mrs. Banks, Corie’s repressed and manipulative mother – saves every scene she’s a part of, particularly when her character is drawn out of her protective shell by eccentric Bohemian neighbour Victor Velasco.
Raymond Hatton, a smooth and capable player, brings a certain flamboyance to Velasco. But he’s miscast as the kind of rugged Continental rogue indicated by Simon. As a result he poses no kind of threat to either Corie or her mother, rendering any potential sexual tension moot.
Pat McDermott is funny as always, making the most of his role as the man who has struggled up five flights to install the couple’s telephone. Unfortunately, he’s not matched by Ryan Elliott as the delivery man, who seems to have climbed a much shorter staircase, with packages that are evidently weightless.
Sadly, Susanne de Pencier’s wardrobe choices are unflattering for the principals, outside of a couple of nice changes for Peterson. They’re also too reliant on clothing that was obviously fabricated in the ’80s, rather than making any real attempt to evoke the early-`60s.
The White Rock Players Club makes much of aiming for excellence in community theatre. But if it’s going to continue to choose era-specific subjects for its shows, it needs to join the rest of the entertainment world and realize that period clothing can’t be an unimportant detail for a period play. And – sorry – there are still people in the audience who know the difference.
Barefoot in the Park runs until June 21, Coast Capital Playhouse (1532 Johnston Rd.), 604-536-7535.