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Hot Summer Nights' Barefoot in the Park

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Comedy is for optimists and optimists are for comedy, which is why Barefoot in the Park, Neil Simon's well-worn celebration of young nuptial love, gets produced year in and year out. It tells that most optimistic of species, newlyweds, that making their marriage work requires only some simple compromises and a healthy ant/ grasshopper balance.

As the play ages into its sixth decade, it appeals to old lovers, too, taking them back to a time when Ma Bell sent a technician to install your new phone; when you ate at Schrafft's and watched What's My Line?; and when $125/ month for a walkup apartment in midtown Manhattan was pricey.

Although the play's setting may be dated, its structure is virtually ageless, and the dialogue darts from one comic zinger to the next like a hummingbird to nectar. You're never far away from a laugh line. The current Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy production doesn't do anything radical with Simon's script beyond hiring some dependable summer-stock actors to play it, and that is more than enough to make the play work. It's antic, funny and sweet, and true to itself.

Robbie Gay, who was a lot of fun in the Hot Summer Nights staging of Sylvia last year, played Paul Bratter, the straight man husband, ably. Casey Tuma found the manic quality in his wife's character but was less able to convey Corrie's infectious appeal: She seemed less free-spirited than undermedicated. Even adjusting for an era when people married after brief, superficial courtships, it isn't quite clear why Paul would fall for Corrie. He's the one who leads them out onto the ledge at play's end, but she seems likely to keep them there.

In order to get back through the window into domestic bliss, they'll need to follow their elders' example. Busy bee Corrie pushes her widowed mother into a blind date with Corrie's upstairs neighbor, 58-year-old Victor. Their subsequent wild night culminates in a morning-after scene that Pauline Cobrda and Paul Paliyenko pull off with surprisingly delicate, touching affection. They briefly elope with the play in the last act, and banish the Bratters' puppy love to the backyard. There's a weight and complexity there that only age confers on love. Neil Simon, who was in his mid-30s when he wrote Barefoot in the Park, seems to have understood even then that marriage means never losing your capacity for tenderness, no matter how thick the calluses you build up over the years, and no matter if you're a grasshopper or an ant.

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