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Camelot offers a lively ‘Barefoot’ romp

Camelot Theatre launched its spring production of “Barefoot in the Park” this past week at the James Collier Theatre in Talent, and it’s a delightful and spirited romp through the ups and downs of marriage — especially when that marriage is between Paul and Corrie Bratter, a button-down lawyer (Adam Kilgore) and his free-spirited young wife (Jess Mengel).

Set on the top floor of a five-floor walk-up in 1960s Greenwich Village, this quintessentially New York play (there are elaborate references to subway times, the Staten Island Ferry, and the geography of Manhattan) is vintage Simon. The young couple lives in a microscopic flat with a hole in the skylight, sandwiched between a deranged and dubious Eastern European named Victor Velasco (Sean Warren) and a coterie of bizarre neighbors who remain unseen, including one which may or may not include a “giant cat with a can opener.”

The writing keeps this fabulous little play humming, and it’s pretty hard to mess up Neil Simon when it comes to farcical comedy, but this particular ensemble cast — of which both of the leads are brand new to Camelot — is a terrific group with good comic timing and a sense of the absurd. The main group of four is rounded out by Linda Otto as the New Jersey-based mother of the bride.

As Corrie Bratter, Jess Mengel is excellent. A young actor with a delightful sense of comedy, perfectly cast in this show by co-directors Brianna Gowland and Shawn Ramagos, Mengel plays Corrie with a broad physical comedy, and at a dizzying pace, her blonde curls and various costume changes creating a monsoon of frenetic and free-spirited hilarity onstage. In a performance more Goldie Hawn than Jane Fonda, Mengel sobs and giggles her way through a series of calamitous scenarios and finishes off the show triumphant — a secretly smart ditz with a heart of gold. She’s a terrific comedic actor who will be interesting to watch as she progresses through the harrowing dressage arena that is the Rogue Valley theater scene.

As Paul, it’s Adam Kilgore’s job to play the straight man to Mengel’s unhinged Corrie, and he’s very funny as the foil to her nutty antics. A somewhat stony presence with a countenance not unlike Jared Kushner if he’d had no money, Paul seems ill-equipped to handle his carnal and slightly unhinged wife. With the exception of an oft-mentioned “six days” of honeymooning at the Plaza Hotel, he has kept his romantic side under wraps. Kilgore does a great job as the well-meaning but stiff Paul.

As Victor Velasco, the nutty neighbor who lives in the attic and hasn’t paid rent in months, Sean Warren is top-notch, playing the impecunious Lothario with excellent balance. He’s a nightmare of ingratiating charisma and sly avoidance of responsibility, but Warren manages to make Velasco endearing and hysterically funny, both, despite his myriad shortcomings.

Finally, as Ethel Banks, Corrie’s conventional mother, Linda Otto nearly takes the show as a careful suburbanite who also discreetly longs for a bit of adventure. Decked out in standard issue fur wrap and pearls, Ethel is the picture of the disapproving bourgeois relative; she and Paul have far more in common than she does with her own daughter, and Otto is pristine as a woman who wants to connect but doesn’t have the emotional toolbox to make it happen without a stiff drink and a great deal of prodding.

The whole show is a great effort and, despite two intermissions — this seems mildly pretentious unless it’s critical to the action or called for by the playwright — the production whizzes along on Simon’s wizardly dialogue and the strength of the cast. It’s an easy show to watch and enjoy and great for most ages, since any adult scenarios are firmly rooted in LBJ-era innuendo. Camelot’s “Barefoot in the Park” is a strong start to their busy season. Enjoy the ride.

“Barefoot in The Park” by Neil Simon continues through May 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.