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Quills: Camelot stages Neil Simon’s ‘Barefoot in the Park’

Camelot Theater Company is staging “Barefoot in the Park,” the Neil Simon classic about newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter and their adventures living in a tiny apartment together during the early days of their marriage in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Adam Kilgore and Jess Mengel — two brand new actors in the Camelot firmament — will star in their debut performance with the company.

Simon, who is 90 years old at this writing and continues to reign as one of the crown princes of Broadway, wrote the original script for “Barefoot in the Park” which premiered on the Great White Way in 1963 at the old Biltmore Theatre. He considered the play to be “light, fluffy entertainment ... where nothing is really at stake,” unlike “Prisoner of Second Avenue” and “The Sunshine Boys,” which were both comedies but which Simon thought of as primarily bittersweet black comedic devices with deeper themes.

He has long considered “Barefoot In the Park” to be a work of pure entertainment, and had a somewhat strained relationship with the play, despite it being his longest-running hit and the 10th-longest-running non-musical play in Broadway history. The play was inspired by Simon’s own marriage to Joan Baim (the first of Simon’s four spouses) who died in 1973. While many patrons tend to think of his plays as inspired by his own relationships, and more specifically his marriages, Simon says “only five have been based on my marriages, like ‘Barefoot in the Park’ with Joan, and maybe five on my family.

“The rest have come out of my mind, my own creation.” Simon has written a total of 32 plays, of which Camelot has most recently staged “Sweet Charity” (his hit 1966 musical collaboration with Cy Coleman) in 2016, featuring Sarah Gore as Charity and choreographed by Rebecca Campbell. The show was well-received by Camelot patrons and, as such, another Simon play has been mounted.

As for “Barefoot,” Simon has said that “a farce (comedy) is relentless,” and that it needs endless plot twists in order for patrons to remain interested. In writing the play — as well as with other comedic masterpieces, such as “The Odd Couple” and “California Suite” — it was Simon’s intention to challenge himself and to see how far he could go with a theme that might have been easier for him to maneuver with a more solemn work.

Simon has said that he prefers this rhythm, in that it allows for the writer to have total control in a way that a tragic or historical play would not. Ironically, the plays that have been hardest and most challenging for Simon to write have also been the ones that the author has ultimately found to be more trivial once they have been received by playgoers. In the eyes of a serious playwright, an entertaining and accessible hit might be seen as appealing to a mass audience.

Shawn Ramagos, the artistic director of Camelot since April, is presenting a distinctly popular programming schedule in 2018, with reliable musicals such as Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun” and Stephan Elliott’s “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” interspersed with favored plays like “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” and “Oliver!”.

“Barefoot in the Park” runs from May 3-20 at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave. in Talent.

— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com