Thursday, February 23, 2006

'Barefoot in the Park'

Student productions are usually a mixed bag. Sometimes you get something very good, and sometimes you get something in the opposite end of the spectrum. Barefoot in the Park, the Neil Simon 3-act comedy put up by the Silliman University College of Arts and Sciences and Speech and Theatre Arts Department, fell somewhere closer to the latter.

The choice of material presented the first difficulty. Barefoot tackles the trials and tribulations of a newly married odd couple. While the situation is staple for modenr comedies, New York in the 1960s is about as far removed from the Dumaguete experience as you can get.

Presented with such an alien material, the tendency of inexperienced actors would be to overact. And that's precisely what happens here, without exception. Fortunately, the exaggerations work well enough within the context of the absurdities of Neil Simon's script, so it isn't nearly as jarring.

The heaviest load is placed on Chantal Marie Thiel, who plays Corie. Very good enunciation, very good projection, a fantastic singing voice, and has the knack for physical comedy. But she often falls back on cutesy tactics to get the laughs, and she can get irritating at times.

Edward Cham plays Paul, the harassed husband, with a bit more viciousness than one would have expected of Corie's polar opposite. The role could have been more effective if he had played a more weary straight man slowly being pushed over the edge.

There were times when the rapid-fire exchange these two clicked, and those were the moments that got genuine laughs from the audience. However, for the most part, they seemed to lack the chemistry required to play newlyweds. Cham, especially, looked uncomfortable.

Tara de Leon, playing Corie's mother, fit the image quite nicely, but her execution was a little ill-defined. Was she worried about herself? Was she supposed to be meddlesome? Was she weary? She was particularly painful to watch when she was slumped between the two actors in exhaustion from climbing the stairs. I was actually afraid that she would pull a muscle. Only towards the end does she come alive with a bit of spark.

To his credit, Rosbert Salburo, playing the eccentric Victor Velasco, uses his gift for physical comedy to great effect. But he doesn't quite deliver his lines with the right zing, and this is a shame because the role could have been much funnier. And really, couldn't he have differentiated his portrayal from his last role of Sancho Panza?

While there were some good scenes, I think the number was overshadowed by several dragging moments which elicited yawns and distracted glances from the audience. The denouement between Corie and Paul, particularly, was too abrupt and could have been played out better.

Still, it's a student production and so the small deficiencies are forgivable. I am looking forward to a better show next time.

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