An affinity for the free-spirited, try-anything-once lifestyle. Greenwich Village as a center of culture. A quirky, bohemian neighbor. A young Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in the film adaptation.
Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" is very much a product of the 1960s, when it was written and became a Broadway hit.
But Haley Hawk, who's directing Altoona Community Theatre's upcoming production of the play, says the romantic comedy is timeless.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Corie and Paul Bratter (Alyssa Baker and Joshua Phillips) relax in their apartment.
"It's set in the '60s, but I think anyone can really relate to this story," she said. "I was laughing out loud every couple of lines, just reading it. I couldn't wait to see it performed."
ACT will perform "Barefoot in the Park" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 and Sept. 21 and at 2 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona. The show will mark Hawk's first time directing for ACT.
"This is the first time I've directed on this large a scale," the Hollidaysburg resident said. "It's more exciting than anything. I have a really great crew [and] a really great cast. It's made my job great because I just get to be creative."
If you go
What: "Barefoot in the Park," presented by Altoona Community Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 and Sept. 21, and 2 p.m. Sept. 22
Where: Mishler Theatre, Altoona
Tickets: $13 to $20, available at the Mishler box office, by calling 944-9434 or online at www.altoonacommunitytheatre.com
"Barefoot" debuted on Broadway in 1963, starring a relatively unknown Redford as Paul Bratter, a newlywed attorney moving into a drafty apartment in a Greenwich Village brownstone. The conservative Paul clashes with his free-spirited wife, Corie (played by Elizabeth Ashley on Broadway; Fonda was in the film version only), over her idea that he's too reserved to do anything spontaneous, like running around barefoot in a nearby park.
According to the Internet Broadway Database, "Barefoot" ran for more than 1,500 performances and was nominated for four Tony Awards, winning best director for Mike Nichols. It was Simon's longest running play; the 1967 film adaptation came out while the play was still on stage.
The film has given the play a larger legacy, and helped bring at least one actor to the ACT production.
"I was intrigued at the opportunity to play a part that Robert Redford had played," said Joshua Phillips, who plays Paul for ACT. "And I've never done Neil Simon before, and this seemed like a good opportunity for that, too. I hadn't seen the movie, but I knew Robert Redford had played the role."
The 29-year-old Hollidaysburg resident soon found out that the role was ideal for him.
"He's a lot like me in a lot of ways," Phillips said. "He doesn't drink a lot. He's very peaceful and trying to make his way and follow like the rules.
"And I would say that it's an interesting role because he's the polar opposite of Corie, who is his new bride. So it's an interesting dynamic that they explore in the play."
That dynamic also appeals to Alyssa Baker of Hollidaysburg, who plays Corie. Baker said she took to the character quickly.
"The character is hysterical," the 25-year-old said. "She's so in love with love. There's a lot of fighting, a lot of romantic intimacy - you get the whole gamut with this character."
Baker hasn't seen the film version of "Barefoot" and refuses to watch it before the ACT run ends.
"I will watch it when I'm done with the show," she said. "There's a temptation there, but I don't want it to affect my interpretation."
Baker and Phillips must carry the play, as either Corie or Paul is in every scene. In fact, there are only two other large roles in the whole piece. So chemistry between the two is very important.
"That's the most important thing for these roles - the chemistry," Hawk said. "I think there's a lot of chemistry between the two leads."
The production hasn't been without difficulties. ACT veteran Jody Hesley was set to play the Bratters' bohemian neighbor, Victor Velasco, but had a medical emergency. Though he's already recovering, it was decided that he wouldn't be well enough to perform. David Wirick has stepped in to play Hesley's role.
"We're struggling right now because of our cast member change," Baker admitted. "Things have very recently become very difficult, but I think it's going to pull together in the end."
And the end product will be something that has wide appeal, Phillips said.
"I think the audience, if they're married, they'll find it humorous because they'll see themselves in this show," he said. "But I think anyone will enjoy this show because Neil Simon wrote a great script."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.