Joseph Whidby said he and friends at Macon Little Theatre didn’t know it would be a tribute of sorts when they scheduled “Barefoot in the Park” last year as 2019’s opening production.
Neil Simon, author of the play, died in 2018 at 91 having experienced commercial success and artistic acclaim few stage and screen scriptwriters do.
“ ’Barefoot in the Park’ is probably his most well known play, that and ‘The Odd Couple,’ ” Whidby said.
Whidby is directing “Barefoot.” He said it’s his first Simon work.
“It’s been so much fun,” he said. “It’s a high-speed comedy but still has such heart. It’s funny, but not cheaply funny. I’m excited directing it, especially with him passing away. We didn’t know that would be the case in our planning.”
Plays Whidby mentioned as Simon’s best known were some of his earliest in the 1960s following his start as a radio and television writer working with the likes of Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. Simon is known for urban settings and sensibilities and revealing the pitfalls and rewards of human relations. Whidby said Simon broaches such deep topics with humanity and humor making the journey palpable and entertaining
“The curtain opens six days after the couple, Corie and Paul, have married and moved into their new apartment — one with a few issues,” Whidby said.
“I think when entering a new relationship or marriage everyone has their own expectations. In this case, one is that after the wedding they’d come home, shake hands and simply start life — kind of a simplistic expectation thinking life is just a walk in the park. But they, like everyone, realize there are good times and there is conflict to walk through. The question is will you face it and work it out? How will you work it out? Do you believe it’s worth it? It’s true for marriages, friendships, neighborhoods and, I guess, for society. Neil Simon’s genius might have been writing these things with insight plus great humor.”
Whidby said one thing the company had fun with that isn’t part of the play and won’t be seen on stage — except that it helped cast members grow together — explore their characters, and have fun, was to create a backstory for the happy couple on social media.
“A cast member — Merry Forbes who plays Corie, the young bride — came up with the idea of posting typical couples and before-marriage photos anyone might do on Facebook,” he said. “We backtracked and created a timeline story for Corie and Paul on our own facebook.com page. We wondered, where would they take their engagement photo? What about the proposal? Shopping for a wedding dress? What about the wedding? We did all that sort of thing. I think it was a great, fresh idea. There’s even a wedding registry on amazon.com.”
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Barefoot in the Park”
Where: Macon Little Theatre, 4220 Forsyth Road
When: Show times: 8 p.m. Feb. 1-2 and Feb. 6-9; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 3 and Feb. 10
Cost: $20, $15 seniors, $10 students
Information: www.maconlittletheatre.org, 478-471-7529