‘Barefoot in the Park’ takes audiences back to the ’60s

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 - 7:53pm

Beginning Thursday, April 21, the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre will be presenting “Barefoot in the Park,” a performance by comedic playwright Neil Simon. The performances will be at the Arthur Miller Theater in the Walgreen Drama Center on North Campus.

“Barefoot in the Park” is a romantic comedy that premiered on Broadway in 1963 and was adapted for the screen in 1967. The play tells the story of newlyweds, Paul and Corie, whose recent marriage is put to the test when they get home from their honeymoon. The two deal with moving into their new home, meddling relatives and other day-to-day trials.
The show’s cast is small, comprised of only six actors — four leads and two smaller parts. It is made up of members of the Ann Arbor community. The production team is made up of community members and University students. 
Director Wendy Wright has decided to set the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s own production in 1965, right on the brink of the hippie movement in America — an artistic choice that highlights some of the differences between the two main characters. Paul is a buttoned-up, traditional and newly employed lawyer, while his wife, Corie, is more of a free spirit. 
The music, costumes and sets all come together to create the ’60s, Mad Men-esque world in which Wright has chosen to set the story. Wright is a DJ at WEMU, Eastern Michigan University’s jazz and blues radio station, which gives her a unique take on the music of the show. In addition to directing, she is managing all of the sound design — something that isn’t always the focus when directing a play.
“Music is always a really important part of any production that I’m involved with,” she said. “I’ve got Dimension, The Beatles and Tom Jones. I try to incorporate music into the show itself, but also the pre-show and the intermission. It really amplifies the emotion of the moment if you can introduce and underscore it with music. It enhances it — it doesn’t take away from it.”
The era the story takes place in also has an impact on the characters, who Wright says are very different from their modern counterparts.
“There’s a real sort of sweetness and naiveté to it because of the time period it’s in,” she said. “Despite the fact that they are in their mid-twenties, they are probably closer to what a late teen might be today as far as their life experience.”
Wright said that Neil Simon’s works have made a resurgence in the theatre community lately and that his other well-known works, including “The Odd Couple” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” have recently been performed by regional theatre companies. Like these, she calls “Barefoot in the Park” a classic.
“There’s something in it for everyone, whether it’s issues with a significant other or a meddling spouse or just the idea of starting a new life,” Wright said. “There’s things that everyone can recognize, especially students on campus.”