Neil Simon's romantic comedy, Barefoot in the Park, premiered on Broadway in 1963. It ran for 1,530 performances – this was Simon's longest-running hit, and the tenth longest-running non-musical play in Broadway history. Originally produced by STAG in 1973, the company is very excited to be making it a part of their Anniversary season.
Barefoot In The Park is basically the story of newly-weds Paul and Corie Bratter as they adjust to married life in a tiny Greenwich Village apartment. It spans a four day time frame and, knowing Simon as I do, much can happen in four days.
Actor Madeleine McKinlay plays Corie Bratter and tells me that what she likes most about Corie is how big hearted she is and how much she loves – even when things don’t turn out right, everything’s coming from a really good place.
"Despite the outcome of a situation she always has the best of intentions," says McKinlay. "This stems from really loving the people in her life; she truly cares for her mother, she adores Paul and she readily extends the hand of friendship to Victor Velasco. Even though she can act quite immature at times with Paul and they have that terrible fight, she really does love and care about him. She longs to be a good wife and to create a loving home for Paul, a good daughter by ensuring her Mother is okay now that she’s left the home they once shared together, and a good friend to Victor Velasco, easily offering him free meals and companionship. I think that’s what’s really lovely about Corie and that’s her redeeming feature when she’s acting a bit silly, she does really care for the people around her and she does really love them."
Robert Redford, alongside Elizabeth Ashley headlined the Broadway production. Redford again starred in the '67 film alongside Jane Fonda. Watching two brilliant actors like Redford and Fonda would seem like a good reference for actors attempting the roles, as would the authentic time period captured on film, but not for McKinlay who made a conscious decision to not watch the film because she wanted to bring her own interpretation to it.
"And I think this has been beneficial, but I have learnt a lot about the 1960s through our work. I believe both the character of Corie and Neil Simon’s America of 1963 are inextricably linked," McKinlay tells me." Her character is really informed by her era and socio-political context. Corie is trying to be this 1960’s housewife; which is a blend of the domestic goddess ideal of the 50’s where the woman runs the home and makes it a charming domestic space, and takes care of the man who goes off and works, and also a more modern ideal where she is assertive, demanding, sexy and also feistier and more independent. She’s navigating a gap between the old and the new in terms of the 1960’s domestic landscape, which is seen in her ineptitude in the kitchen and in making cocktails, and in throwing a dinner party after she’s lit the stove on fire. "
"I’ve learnt a lot about Corie from the time of reading the script to now. Her character is both informed by what Neil Simon has written of her in the script and by what I bring personally to the character through my own interpretation of who she is and my own personal experiences. We have a few things in common (don’t let me in your kitchen unless you want me to burn it down!) and this allows me to make her more three-dimensional and bring her to life off of the page. She is very young, excitable and a lot of fun; and has a joie de vivre and natural enthusiasm for life. Although initially she came across at times as acting frivolous, I have since learnt that all her actions come from a really genuine and loving place. She is by no means a superficial character. She’s multifaceted and there are levels to her that have been extremely interesting to explore. "
Barefoot in the Park is in the very capable hands of well respected director Natasha Boyd whose influence reached McKinlay beyond the audition room.
"What attracted me to the work initially was hearing about the play happening at STAG by a friend who had worked with director Natasha Boyd before," explains McKinlay. " I was really itching to get out of my comfort zone and test myself by working with a director that would really challenge me and help to me to grow as an actor. So I got my hands on the script, which really sealed the deal for me wanting to audition, as it was so hilarious. I read it on the train and I was just sitting there giggling to myself and everyone around me was giving me strange looks but I couldn’t help it! It was such a captivating story, it completely hooked me in and I just fell in love with the character of Corie. She’s so vibrant and colourful and funny, and I started to imagine how I would say the lines and how she would walk and so forth. I just loved the story and the arc it took and the ending, and I realized how much I wanted to be a part of the story."
As much as Mckinlay is relishing the rehearsal room, she admits that there are challenges – the amount of props, quick costume changes and staging it on Stag’s high compact stage. "But each week we get more and more comfortable with this and by production week it will all look so natural I think."
Another aspect McKinlay admits to having to concentrate on is her voice. "I danced for most of my life with the Australian Ballet School, so whilst I come from a strong performance background and feel very comfortable onstage, projecting my voice and having tonal variety is something I’ve really had to work on throughout this process," she admits. " The majority of my scenes are opposite Jeremy Just who plays Paul, and obviously being a male he has a deeper voice than me, so sometimes my voice can get lost in dialogue with him. It’s also not getting too hysterical and pitchy in the argument scenes, and sustaining ‘her voice’ for three acts. Natasha’s been a fantastic help with that and I’ve also been working with Pauline Constantine, who is phenomenal at voice work. Working with such incredible people has been such an amazing learning experience and ultimately my greatest challenge has become my greatest learning curve and one of the main things that I’ve gotten out of this process has been to really hone in on my voice and improve it.."
So how relevant are the themes of this Simon classic for a contemporary audience? Incredibly so, feels Mckinlay.
" It is a comedy but it’s also a love story and ultimately that’s what renders it timeless," states Mckinlay. "There are so many commonalities that people will find in their past or present relationships, and Corie and Paul’s relationship. Throughout this rehearsal process the cast has constantly being saying, “oh this reminds me so much of this ex- girlfriend or that ex-boyfriend”, and its that reference point that really makes the story so amusing. Everyone’s had that fight when you’ve had a really bad night out and you get home late and you’re tired and you’re on each other’s nerves and it just blows up out of nowhere and it gets ridiculous. When we first started rehearsing that fight scene, which is a scene I think most people will really relate to, it was so hard not to laugh because so many of the lines were so funny and so true to life, and it’s a little embarrassing to say but I could see myself saying some of them! I think the audience will really be able to relate to the transition from honeymoon period of a new relationship where everything’s sunshine and daisies, and then all of a sudden there’s that that thing that happens and the gloss is off and the gloves are on and you’re in a fight and you’re not quite sure how you got there or how to get out of it! It is very funny and that’s a common ground the audience will be able to find with the characters. There are so many other things they could relate to; like Corie’s sometimes strained relationship with her Mother Ethel, and Ethel’s feelings about being left with an empty nest… too many things to list! The set is 60’s; the costumes are 60’s, the context is 60’s, but what the characters are talking about is timeless. Its really a study of human behaviour and I think that makes it perpetually relevant to a contemporary audience. "
Barefoot in the Park is both a love story and a comedy, and, McKinlay promises, is hilarious in its accuracy in chronicling a new relationship.
"Its an escape from bad news stories and the monotony of the day to day, and is a guaranteed great night out with friends or family. The audience will definitely be able to find common ground with the characters and the story; and this, combined with the novelty aspect of the 60’s era set and costumes, will make for an engaging, entertaining and heart warming theatre experience."
May 22 – June 1