One of Neil Simon’s earliest and longest-running plays, “Barefoot in the Park,” opens Friday (May 17) at Stageworks Northwest Theatre.
Stageworks veteran Joshua Warwick, 26, is in his first role as a romantic leading man, Paul Bratter.
“This is the most fun I’ve had” on stage, he said.
Previously, Warwick has played characters such as the high-strung navigator in “Return to the Forbidden Planet” (2018), the petulant Prince John in “The Lion in Winter” (2014) and a scientist seeking to preserve the habitat of a rare species of butterfly in Caroline Wood’s “Uncommon Wings” (2015).
“I think that we’re somewhat similar,” Warwick said of his character, a junior attorney. “We’re sarcastic and witty. Paul might hold his tongue more often than I would in a given situation, but he tries to be logical and think about what he does before he does it.”
He adores his wife, Corie (Michalyn Killian), but is baffled by her. She almost never thinks about what she does before plunging in, while he is conservative and careful. Warwick enjoys playing opposite Killian, whom he says is “the most experienced person I’ve ever worked opposite from.”
Corie is a cheerful dreamer who becomes frustrated when Paul divides his focus between his new marriage and his budding law career. She accuses him of being too “proper and dignified” to go along with her impulses — such as walking barefoot in Washington Square Park in February.
The two get into a fierce argument — one of the most famous and wittiest fights in theater history — which both Warwick and Killian named as their favorite scene.
“I love fighting with Michalyn,” said Warwick. “It’s a lot of fun. My goal is always to break a fellow actor, and this role has given me ample opportunity to do that.”
Rehearsals with Warwick have forced Killian to think on her feet. In one recent rehearsal, Warwick accidentally knocked over a glass, spilling “whiskey” on the floor. In character, he ad-libbed, “Corie, could you bring a rag to clean this up?”
But this was during their argument, so Killian grabbed a prop dishtowel, hurled it onto the spill and snapped, “Clean it yourself!”
“She just went right with it,” Warwick said. “It’s great having a person to work with who is like that.”
Killian, who has choreographed dance recitals and numerous shows at Stageworks and Mainstage theaters, is appearing in an acting role for the first time since 2011. She said “Barefoot” tempted her because “it was so funny.” The play begins “when the honeymoon phase is over and you’re learning about yourself and each other, and how to relate to each other in a space that you’re sharing,” she said.
A mother of two children ages 7 and 2, Killian also loves the play’s “dynamic between a mother and daughter.”
Corie’s mother, Ethel (Kysa Danford) is having her own adjustment period after her daughter leaves the nest. Corie decides to set her widowed mother up with the eccentric neighbor in the attic, Victor Velasco (Tymm Gwayn). Both Danford and Gwayn are excited about getting to play the roles they’ve always wanted.
Rounding out the cast is telephone repairman Harry Pepper (Johnny Winningham) and a Lord & Taylor delivery man (Steve McElhinney). Janeene Niemi is the director and Sarah Miller is stage manager.
Written in 1963, the play is a time capsule, because copyright laws don’t allow script changes without permission. This gives the cast — and the audience — a chance to see an old favorite “in a new light,” Niemi said, because some elements in “Barefoot” — such as male-female dynamics, casual prejudice and excessive social drinking — are viewed by today’s audiences with a new awareness (which the TV show “Mad Men” explored in full).
“We found that even with someone as seemingly innocuous as Neil Simon, there’s a few things that make you go, ‘Hm, that’s interesting …’ I hope it sparks a discussion.” she said.
“But overall, the show just continues to make me laugh every night.”