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Wednesday, 16 May 2007 00:00

Kudzu goes barefoot

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Paul Bratter, a newlywed young lawyer, sits on the couch of his fifth-floor brownstone apartment after a long day at work.

 

“Did you miss me today?” asks his bubbly wife, Corie.

“No,” Paul replies

“Why not?” Corie whines.

“You called eight times,” Paul says. “I don’t talk to you that much at home.”

The line gets a laugh for its situational familiarity. Who hasn’t been in the throws of a new love? Who hasn’t found themselves wishing for a little space and time of their own?

Which is exactly the point of playwright Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.” Two newlyweds who are polar opposites of one another — he, practical and down to earth — she, overly gregarious and spontaneous — live together under the same roof for the first time along with all the growing pains that entails.

First written in 1963, the play does show signs of aging. Critics railed the 2006 Broadway production for lacking modern relevance — Paul and Corie never lived together or, ahem, consumated their relationship prior to marriage. However, the production’s director countered that anyone who has ever been in love and moved in with another person has gone through similar negotiations as the naïve, newlywed couple, regardless of what time period the stage is set.

“If you look at it as a period piece, the comedy doesn’t go out of style,” said Terry Welch, director of the Kudzu Players’ production, which opens this Friday. “It’s just universal comedy. It’s man, woman, mother-in-law — all those things that will always be funny.”

For the two young actors playing Paul, Anthony Giordano, and Corie, Christy Waymouth, their characters seem to mimic their personalities. Waymouth, who will be a junior at Western Carolina University this fall, is as perky and energetic as Corie — played by a vivacious Jane Fonda in the 1967 film “Barefoot in the Park.”

“I love the fact that she’s just so full of life,” Waymouth said of Corie.

Waymouth got involved with theater productions in high school, as her love of singing prompted her to audition for the school musical. She wound up with a lead role and after several more shows she decided that theater was to be her chosen career path. In her musical theater major she is focusing on song and dance, but is hoping to strengthen her straight acting skills.

“This is my first straight play,” Waymouth said. “I was really worried about it coming in. But it’s not as exhausting as a musical because you don’t break out into dance or song.”

Giordano, a recent Western graduate, is a serious study with his character Paul echoing that played by Robert Redford in the film version — handsome bordering on stodgy.

“There’s a little bit of yourself in all of the characters you play,” Giordano said.

Giordano, originally from Bryson City, began acting when he was 10 years old, going on to spend a year studying at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York before going to Western. His portrayl of practical Paul is full-bodied, as he embraces the craft of theater and the stage setting. Unlike television, which directs the viewer where to look and when, theater allows for rambling of the eye. It enables the viewer to watch not just who is speaking, but all the action in the room. Well cognizant of this fact Giordano remains constantly in character, utilizing great facial expression even as a third or even fourth party listener to a conversation.

However, it seems fewer and fewer people are taking the time and opportunity to enjoy the craft of theater. Like so many of the arts — its popularity appears in decline, threatened by the commercial accessibility of home entertainment and a general disinterest in the arts altogether, said the show’s producer and character actor Tom Wilson, who plays the worldly neighbor upstairs, Victor Valesco.

Even doing shows such as Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” is playing it safe, using a reliable formula and familiarity to draw in audiences, Wilson said.

“People have heard of most of his plays, most of his plays have been made into film,” Wilson said. “If you do something obscure, it might be the greatest thing in the world, but no one’s going to come see it.”

Such is the problem with community theater. It relies on community support to be a success. People who may not necessarily be interested in theater may still see a Broadway show while in New York, because Broadway is a concept that people understand — even without liking the art form.

The Kudzu Players may draw some cross-referenced support for “Barefoot in the Park,” as the show’s leads also each have rolls in the newly revised production of Cherokee’s outdoor drama “Unto These Hills.” The production is being directed by Stephen Ayers, Western Carolina University associate professor of Communication, Theater and Dance.

Also, the addition of the two twenty-something leads and a largely student crew has helped reinvigorate the Kudzu spirit. The Players have, for the past several years, been predominately older. It wasn’t that way when they first joined on, Welch said — she herself wasn’t much older than Waymouth and Giordano when she became a Player. But time has its way of taking a toll.

“Part of the problem is that we never really replaced ourselves,” Welch said.

And so with the story of young love comes young blood and a vibrant future for the Kudzu Players.

“It has infused life and excitement into all of us,” Welch said.

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