Simon Fest brings ‘Barefoot in the Park,’ which originally starred Robert Redford, to Park City
What: Simon Fest Theatre Company “Barefoot in the Park”
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Aug. 14-17; 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18
Where: The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St.
Cost: Wednesday and Thursday tickets range from $15 to $25. Friday, Saturday and Sunday tickets are $19 to $29.
Clarence Gilyard holds a special place in his heart for Neil Simon’s 1963 romantic comedy play “Barefoot in the Park.”
Gilyard, who is directing the Simon Fest production that will run from Aug. 14-18 at the Egyptian Theatre, used a couple of scenes from the play to audition for his agent back in the mid-1980s.
“Even as a young African-American actor back then, I felt this was a play for young couples to identify with, even though it was set in the 1960s,” Gilyard said.
So when he was asked by Simon Fest artistic director Peter Sham to direct the play this summer, Gilyard, an Emmy-nominated actor, didn’t hesitate to say yes.
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“I’m very excited about it, because when you see a play like this, you kind of end up examining yourself,” he said. “Older people will remember what they were like at that age, and young people will wonder what it would have been like without the phones or technology.”
The play, which premiered on Broadway in 1963, is about newlyweds Paul and Corie Bratter who live in a small apartment in Manhattan.
While Paul is a straight-laced, anxious attorney, Corie is more free spirited and is constantly trying to get her husband to relax and walk “barefoot in the park.”
Gilyard would like nothing more than to have audiences see the play and laugh.
“I want them to come and enjoy their lives, and forget the politics,” he said. “I just want people to come and see this funny play Neil Simon wrote.”
The original Broadway cast featured Robert Redford as Paul, and Elizabeth Ashley as Corie.
The play was so successful that it was made into a film in 1967, with Redford reviving his role opposite Jane Fonda, Gilyard said.
In the Simon Fest production, Trevor Messenger portrays Paul and Sceri Sioux Ivers is Corie.
“This will be the third time I’ve worked with Trevor on a Neil Simon play, and I’m very proud of what he does with Paul,” Gilyard said. “But we really couldn’t do this play without Sceri. Because when the play opens, she’s the first to comes through the door. And if you don’t buy her, you may as well forget about it.”
Since “Barefoot in the Park” is set in the 1960s, Gilyard wanted to stay true to the original tone that Simon had written.
“I directed it in a way so it has that bounce, without being nostalgic,” he said. “For me, it had to ring true, and I wanted the audience to enjoy the people on stage as they went through the things they are going through.”
To do that, Gilyard, who is also an acting coach, conversed with his cast about the characters.
“We had to figure out how the best way to communicate that would be effective for them so they can do the play,” he said. “To get there, we had to find out what their attitudes about the ’60s were — what they knew, and what they wanted to embrace.”
Gilyard and the cast talked about the events that took place in the ’60s.
“Kennedy died a month after the play was first staged,” he said. “The Vietnam War was raging, and there was civil unrest. So there was all of this stuff going down that would inform the actions of the characters.”
On the other hand, Gilyard said, “Barefoot In the Park” is simple in its concept.
“It’s about two beautiful people who are rambunctious, over-achievers who have their life together right before them,” he said. “The complexity comes through the script’s rhythms.”
Gilyard is grateful to have the opportunity to direct the play.
“What was great was how the stars aligned,” he said. “We only had a certain amount of time to boot a play like this, but the two young actors trusted me. We all knew we were in this together. I wanted them to be funny. I wanted them to be beautiful. I wanted them to be poignant.”
Gilyard can’t wait for Park City audiences to the actors at work.
“I would also love it if Robert Redford stopped in to see a performance,” he said.
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