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Actors, one-liners fill a predictable comedy with fun

Published Oct. 2, 2005

The Show Palace Dinner Theatre's series of Broadway shows got off to a promising start Sunday with a solid performance of Neil Simon's comedy Barefoot in the Park, playing various Thursdays and weekends through Nov. 23.

The 2{ hour show went off without a noticeable hitch, thanks to director Vince Vanni's well-chosen and well-prepared cast members, who oozed confidence, stage presence and talent, recovering quickly from what few little blips there were in the opening performance.

The story, set in the 1960s, is about Corie and Paul Bratter, fresh from their six-day honeymoon and making their new home in a fifth-floor walk-up on E 48th Street in New York City. Corie, a little ditzy, is full of spirit; Paul, feet firmly on the ground, is an ambitious young attorney.

Visitors to their new flat include Mrs. Banks, Corie's recently widowed and painfully inhibited mom, and Victor Velasco, a charming Frenchman forced to climb through the Bratters' window to get to his rooftop apartment because he has been locked out for non-payment of his rent.

The running joke is the honest-to-gosh breathtaking trip up the five, long flights of stairs to the couple's apartment.

This is a romantic comedy, fairly predictable, so as with most Simon comedies, the real fun is in the one-liners and characterizations.

Simon and the actors deliver on both counts and then some.

Leads Heather Philipsen and John Ingargiola as the young couple are sweet and convincing as they verbally fence all over the stage.

Ingargiola, who has won awards for earlier roles, continues to mature as a comedy actor, perhaps making this his best performance in memory. His effortless assurance makes the audience comfortable that he has everything under control, even when his character doesn't.

Ms. Philipsen, as the young bride, is also pleasingly secure in her portrayal, projecting her youthful vulnerability through good use of facial and body language. The depiction would be improved, though, if she modulated her voice to keep it from getting unintelligibly shrill during some of the more emotional scenes.

The young couple is charming, but it is the irrepressible Ken Murrin as Velasco and stage natural Diane Marsh as Mrs. Banks who add those wild, comic touches that put this show over the top.

Murrin's career as a French teacher is reflected in his believable Frenchman's accent. As always, the wackier the situation, the better this veteran actor gets.

A real joy is the fine performance by relative stage newcomer Ms. Marsh, who turns the supporting role of middle-aged mom into an audience favorite. Ms. Marsh is a true natural on stage, her smallest facial expression or hand gesture saying volumes without a sound from her lips.

And, as he did in his award-winning performance in Move Over, Mrs. Markham at Stage West Community Playhouse, Ron Biedenkapp, as the telephone repairman, turns one line and a single gesture into one of the best moments in the play.

An excellent set by Rosemary Coriaty and Robert Burns, good costumes by Debi Romano and much-improved lights and sound by Steve Stawski add to the pleasure of this show.

Barefoot in the Park is a light and friendly show, filled with good laughs and likable, recognizable people, perfectly suited to its dinner theater setting.