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On Theater: A lively ‘Barefoot’ revival in Laguna

Nick Tag, Rita Rudner and Lily Gibson star in the Laguna Playhouse production of Neil Simon’s "Barefoot in the Park," directed by Michael Matthews and playing at the Laguna Playhouse through March 22.
(Jason Niedle)

It’s been eons since Neil Simon’s third effort as a playwright, ‘Barefoot in the Park,” has surfaced locally, but the Laguna Playhouse seems to have a knack for putting a fresh shine on the old favorites.

Such is the case currently: Simon’s 1963 chuckler about newlyweds surviving life beyond the honeymoon elicits bountiful laughs even if you may be able to quote the lines before the actors say them. Director Michael Matthews has fashioned a lively and entertaining production that still resonates today.

Lily Gibson and Nick Tag star in the Laguna Playhouse production of Neil Simon’s "Barefoot in the Park," directed by Michael Matthews and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.
(Jason Niedle)

The scene is an upstairs, if not upscale, New York apartment which the young couple strive to make livable, while being interrupted frequently by the bride’s inquisitive mother and a perennially penniless neighbor with grand lifestyle designs. Though the program doesn’t specify the time period, it’s still the 1960s.

What makes this vintage vehicle hum is the beautifully energetic performance of Lily Gibson as Corie, the bouncing bride bent on unstuffing the shirts of her husband, a newly minted lawyer. Gibson’s enthusiasm radiates throughout the show, and she vividly resembles a ‘60s version of Goldie Hawn.

Nick Tag is properly reserved as the conservative young barrister, hitting his stride in the play’s later, conflict-laced scenes. He injects a layer of realism into a series of outlandish situations.

Nick Tag, Paul Rodriguez and Lily Gibson star in the Laguna Playhouse production of Neil Simon’s "Barefoot in the Park," directed by Michael Matthews and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.
(Jason Niedle)

Veteran comedic actress Rita Rudner, a Laguna favorite, is impressive as Corie’s widowed, middle-aged mother drawn into a midtown maelstrom from her more comfortable suburban life in New Jersey. Rudner excels at punching Simon’s acid-tipped dialogue as well as displaying her skill at physical comedy.

The continental Lothario who takes a shine to Mama is enacted by longtime TV and stand-up funnyman Paul Rodriguez, who’s a bit tentative in his interpretation and hesitant in his delivery, though he sells his characterization skillfully.

A rich cameo gem is the role of the out-of-breath telephone repair man, here filled hilariously by John Massey. Thomas Silcott completes the cast as an equally worn delivery man.

“Barefoot in the Park” may have long since reached antique status, but the Simonized dialogue still crackles, and the performance of Lily Gibson alone is worth the admission price in this sterling revival at the Laguna Playhouse.

Lily Gibson, Nick Tag and John Massey star in the Laguna Playhouse production of Neil Simon’s "Barefoot in the Park," directed by Michael Matthews and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.
(Jason Niedle)

If You Go

What: “Barefoot in the Park”

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. matinees Saturdays at 2 p.m., Sundays at 1 p.m. until March 22

Cost: $61 to $101

Information: (949) 497-2787; lagunaplayhouse.com

More at the Playhouse

The Laguna Playhouse was established in 1920, making this its 100th anniversary year. Here’s the lineup for the theater’s centennial season:

“Legally Blonde, the Musical,” July 22 to Aug. 16. Elle Woods’ adventures at Harvard Law have been set to music in this lyrical adaptation of the popular movie.

“Kim’s Convenience,” Sept. 23 to Oct. 11. A family-run Korean variety store is the setting for this story that inspired the hit Canadian sitcom of the same name.

“The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” Nov. 4 to 22. A Tony award-winning comedy set in Atlanta on the eve of World War II by Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy”) and focusing on a Jewish social event.

“The Explorers Club,” Jan. 20 to Feb. 7, 2021. A 19th-century British farce imagines female membership in an all-male organization and the discovery of an ancient lost city.

“The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” Feb. 24 to March 14. Adapted by Herman Wouk from his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, this drama details the trial of an accused mutineer whose actions may have saved the ship and its crew.

“La Cage Aux Folles,” March 24 to April 18. This Harvey Fierstein/Jerry Herman musical inspiration for the movie “The Bird Cage” features members of a drag show night club trying to play it straight.

“A Shayna Maidel,” May 26 to June 13. Two separated sisters are reunited 20 years later in the aftermath of the Holocaust in this drama about family, faith and forgiveness.

The Laguna season includes two special bonus productions: “The Wonderful Winter of Oz,” Dec. 3 to 27, and Hershey Felder’s “George Gershwin Alone,” April 21 to May 2, 2021.

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