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STAGE PRESENCE

EU stages Neil Simon Play Festival

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STAGE PRESENCE

Jake Larkin plays Paul during Friday’s East Union High School Playbox Theatre performance of “Barefoot in the Park” by Neil Simon.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED April 5, 2014 1:30 a.m.

Drama departments produce plays. 

And Neil Simon wrote plays. 

So when East Union’s intermediate and advanced theater students settled in to figure out what they’d perform in their annual spring presentation, choosing one of his well-known hits would have seemed natural. 

The Odd Couple. Barefoot in the Park. Lost in Yonkers. 

All of them offer a slice at metropolitan New York life and feature characters that are as unbelievable as they are over-the-top – a combination that makes watching from the audience a pleasure. 

But why pick one when you can pick multiples?

So for the next week the East Union High School Playbox Theater will be hosting their own four-play Neil Simon Festival in the same sort of repertory approach you’d find off Broadway. 

And as long as the performances are as good as they were on Friday night’s final performance of Barefoot in the Park, it’s going to continue to be a great time to be a fan of high school theater.

It’s easy to say that – throw in the actor or actresses name and talk about how they did the source material such great justice. But we’re talking about one of the great American playwrights and a story that requires a certain type of personality to pull off. 

Corie Bratter, played by Rachel Plumb, is the kind of person that you truly get to know when you live in New York City. The type of person that’s way too happy to be married to somebody that’s not nearly as excited to be married to them. The kind of person that never ventured far enough away to get world experience but finds themselves right in the heart of where people come to find it. 

She’s stellar in the role. 

Bouncing back-and-forth across the small apartment (which is actually quite spacious, all things said) Bratter is brash and loud and determined to make her lawyer husband Paul, played by Jake Larkin, become something other than the stick-in-the-mud that spends too much time worrying about the office and his advancing career. 

You can almost picture Larkin walking into the apartment at the end of the long day – climbing the five flights of stairs (plus the “stoop”) – and pouring himself a tall scotch as he settles into the furniture that played such a large part of the first act. 

With a cast of characters that only New York can provide – CJ Boersma is perfect as the equal-parts creepy and comical Velasco – the Brattons, who are married for only six days when we meet them first, learn about the ups-and-downs of relationships while coming to terms with what it means to sacrifice for one another. 

And yes, sometimes it means running barefoot in the park. 

The play’s title is representative of Corie’s desire to have Peter loosen up by losing his shoes in an adventurous romp through Washington Square Park. The idea is immediately shot down by the buttoned-up Peter who  is preoccupied with the cases that are pending at his law firm and what his future will hold – overlooking the live-wire he shares an apartment with in order to pursue his own ambitions. 

Friday was the last performance. It was apparent that these young thespians really do have the gift and the ability to absorb advanced material and present it to the crowd in a fun and exciting way. It’s more than reading or remembering lines – it’s getting the people sitting in the seats to forget that they’re sitting in a theater. 

Plumb, Larkin, Boersma and Genna Arizmendi – who played Corie’s mom – were able to craft situations that are believable and entertaining. 

East Union drama teacher Annette Taser came up with a brilliant idea with the Neil Simon festival. 

And we’re the ones that truly benefit. 

Enjoy. 

The Neil Simon festival continues today with two performances of “The Odd Couple” – the classic story of Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison. A female version of the story is also being produced. A matinee is scheduled for 2 p.m. and a feature at 7 p.m. 

Additional “Odd Couple” shows are:

• Female version: Thursday, April 10, at 6 p.m. and Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m.

• Male version: Friday, April 11, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 12, at 2 p.m.


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