BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
ST. PETERSBURG — Barefoot in the Park was a popular movie in 1967, primarily because of its glamorous stars, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda as newlyweds in a New York apartment.
The actors playing the couple in American Stage's production of Neil Simon's romantic comedy plan to take advantage of the audience's memory of the movie.
"People are going to walk in expecting, looks-wise, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda," said Gavin Hawk, who plays Paul, a straitlaced lawyer. "We really hope to surprise the audience with our take on this."
Needless to say, Hawk, 36, though a perfectly good-looking guy, is no Redford. A professor of acting at Eckerd College, he's more familiar to bay area audiences in dramatic roles (he was a Victorian gentleman in freeFall Theatre's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) or as one-half of the improv team Hawk and Wayne than as a performer of frothy comedies.
Samantha McKinnon Brown, 25, is Hawk's co-star, as Paul's wife, Corie, a bubbly free spirit. She's a hazel-eyed ingenue who played another Simon character, the title role in the musical Sweet Charity, last year at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.
"I feel like there's a little bit of the modern relationship, visually, between Gavin and me," Brown said, as the two took a lunch break during rehearsal last week. "On television shows, you see couples who look like us. You don't see two models. You see combinations. You see opposites."
Barefoot in the Park started out as a Broadway smash in 1963, with Redford and Elizabeth Ashley in the principal roles, directed by Mike Nichols. The play ran almost five years and spawned the movie and a short-lived sitcom with an all-black cast.
The playwright, Simon, drew on his first marriage, when he and his wife were living in their first New York apartment. "They had an argument and she threw a frozen veal chop at him," Brown said. "That inspired Barefoot in the Park."
Simon's play is very much of its time. "We've got the Formica counters, the little Princess phone that lights up, all those '60s details," Hawk said. "It was kind of a naive time. JFK was president. You had Jackie O and Camelot. There was this feeling of American ingenuity and pride."
It's a period that has been embraced by show business lately, with Mad Men on TV and Broadway revivals of musicals such as Promises, Promises and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
"I think that whenever the economy is bad, people long for a more colorful, fun time, so we start to reminisce about times in American history that were like that," Brown said, citing a pair of retro TV series debuting this year, Pan Am and The Playboy Club.
Almost 50 years after its heyday, a Simon script like Barefoot in the Park can come across as awfully talky, but Hawk and Brown are confident that director John O'Connell, who has staged the play elsewhere, has a good handle on it.
"I think the key is in the blocking," Brown said, referring to the movement and positioning of actors in a play. "There's a lot of doing in this show. Not only am I talking to you but I'm making a drink."
"We're constantly moving, constantly doing something," Hawk said. "It breaks up that talkiness with different stage pictures."
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.