Barefoot in the Park is a romantic comedy written by Neil Simon. It premiered on Broadway in 1963, featuring leading man Robert Redford. The play was a smash hit, running for over 1,500 performances.
The Basic Plot:
Corie and Paul are newlyweds, fresh from their honeymoon. Corie is still enthralled by her recent sexual awakening and the adventure that comes with youth and marriage. She wants their passionate romantic life to continue at full speed. Paul, however, feels it is time to focus on his burgeoning career as an up-and-coming lawyer. When they don't see eye-to-eye about their apartment, their neighbors, and their sex drive, the new marriage experiences its first patch of rough weather.
Choose a good location for your play, and the rest will write itself. That's what seems to happen in Barefoot in the Park. The entire play takes place on the fifth floor of an New York apartment building, one without an elevator. In Act One, the walls are bare, the floor is vacant of furniture, and the skylight is broken, allowing it to snow in the middle of their apartment at the most inopportune of moments.
Walking up the stairs completely exhausts the characters, granting hilarious, out-of-breath entrances for telephone repairmen, delivery men, and mother-in-laws alike. Corie loves everything about their new, dysfunctional home, even if one must turn the heat off to warm up the place and flush down in order to make the toilet work. Paul, however, does not feel at home, and with the mounting demands of his career, the apartment becomes a catalyst for stress and anxiety. The setting initially creates the conflict between the two lovebirds, but it is the neighbor character who furthers he tension.
The Crazy Neighbor:
Victor Velasco wins the award for the most colorful character in the play, even outdoing the bright, adventuresome Corie. Mr. Velasco prides himself on his eccentricity. He shamelessly sneaks through his neighbor's apartments in order to break into his own. He climbs out five story windows and travels daringly across the building's ledges. He loves exotic food and even more exotic conversation. When he meets Corie for the first time, he happily admits to being a dirty old man. Although, he does note that he is only in his fifties and therefore "still in that awkward phase." Corie is charmed by him, even going as far as covertly arranging a date between Victor Velasco and her prudish mother. Paul distrusts the neighbor. Velasco represents everything Paul does NOT want to become: spontaneous, provocative, silly. Of course, those are all traits which Corie values.
Neil Simon's Women:
If Neil Simon's late wife was anything like Corie, he was a lucky man. Corie embraces life as a series of exciting quests, one more exciting than the next. She is passionate, funny, and optimistic. However, if life becomes dull or tedious, then she shuts down and loses her temper. For the most part, she is the complete opposite of her husband. (Until he learns to compromise and actually walk barefoot in the park... while intoxicated.) In some ways, she is comparable to Julie the deceased wife featured in Simon's 1992 Jake's Women. In both comedies, the women are vibrant, youthful, naïve, and adored by the male leads.Neil Simon's first wife, Joan Baim, may have exhibited some of those traits seen in Corie. At the very least, Simon seemed to have been head-over-heels in love with Baim, as indicated in this excellent New York Times article, "The Last of the Red Hot Playwrights" written by David Richards:
'The first time I saw Joan she was pitching softball," Simon remembers. 'I couldn't get a hit off her because I couldn't stop looking at her.' By September, writer and counselor were married. In retrospect, it strikes Simon as a period of great innocence, green and summery and gone forever."
"I noticed one thing almost as soon as Joan and Neil were married," says Joan's mother, Helen Baim. "It was almost like he drew an invisible circle around the two of them. And nobody went inside that circle. Nobody!
A Happy Ending, Of Course:
What ensues is a light-hearted, predictable final act, in which tensions mount between the newlyweds, culminating with a brief decision to separate (Paul sleeps on the couch for a spell), followed by the realization that both husband and wife should compromise. It's yet another simple (but useful) lesson on moderation.
Is Barefoot Funny to Today's Audience?
In the sixties and seventies, Neil Simon was THE hit maker of Broadway. Even throughout the eighties and nineties, he was creating plays that were vibrant crowd-pleasers. Plays such as Lost in Yonkers and his autobiographic trilogy pleased the critics as well.
Although by today's media-frenzied standards, plays such as Barefoot in the Park may feel like the pilot episode of a slow-paced sitcom; yet there is still a lot to love about his work. When it was written, the play was a comedic look at a modern young couple who learn to live together. Now, enough time has gone by, enough changes in our culture and relationships have occurred, that Barefoot feels like a time capsule, a glimpse into a nostalgic past when the worst thing couples could argue about is a broken skylight, and all conflicts could be resolved simply by making a fool of oneself.