If you think “Barefoot in the Park’’ is a dated stage sitcom, think again. Shana Gozansky, who is helming a Gloucester Stage Company revival, sees the 1963 Neil Simon Broadway comedy very differently.
As the busy Watertown-based Jewish director recently told the Journal, “There’s a danger of just playing it for laughs. What I think the play does so beautifully is show us what different expectations we have about marriage.”
Making the Gloucester revival unique is the casting of two real-life married couples to play the roles: McCaela Curran Donovan and Joe Short (married four years) as newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter, and Paula Plum and Richard Snee (married nearly 40 years) as Corie’s mother, Ethel Banks, and the Bratters’ very quirky but likeable neighbor, Victor Velasco. (The original cast starred Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley as the Bratters. Redford also starred in the 1967 film version with Jane Fonda.)
As the play begins, the Bratters have different expectations of their post-honeymoon New York home as well as marriage. Corie focuses on what she sees as the charms and potential of the fifth-floor apartment (sixth counting the stoop). Paul complains about the lack of heat and a broken skylight through which snow enters. Adventurous Corie welcomes the challenges of the residence, particularly a very small bedroom and marriage, while straight-laced Paul seems prepared to search for better living quarters and eventually even brings up the option of divorce in speaking of the differences between them.
Did playwright Simon identify at all with novice lawyer Paul? If Gozansky did not actually find such an affinity, she did allow for an autobiographical factor: “Neil Simon was a black sheep in his family. You can read the play as his desire to deal with his own anxiety,” she said.
Over the course of the play’s four-day timeline, free-spirited Corie gains some sure footing, while reserved Paul stretches by taking the title walk (in Central Park). “In every relationship,” Gozansky submitted, “someone’s afloat and someone’s an anchor.” Meanwhile, Ethel takes a romantic chance with Victor, who appreciates her grounded approach to life.
“You see every single person shift,” Gozansky noted. Elaborating on what she sees as “a certain kind of Jewish responsibility” in the comedy’s subtext, she added,” Love is a verb, not a noun [here]. People have to activate love.”
”Barefoot in the Park” may represent Gozansky’s first experience directing a Simon play, but, she said, “I love doing comedies.” She marveled at what she called “an incredibly progressive idea [in a 1960s play]” – the notion that the characters “enjoy each other’s differences.”
For her part, the director finds time to be herself as a Jew as well as a busy director. She spoke of lighting candles and confessed, “We have to juggle Shabbats.” This fall, she will head to Lowell’s Merrimack Repertory Theatre to stage the Jane Austen-inspired “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley ” (Nov. 27-Dec. 22).
“Barefoot in the Park,” through June 30 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main St., Gloucester.
For tickets, call 978-281-4433 or visit gloucesterstage.com.