The gloom over the new revival of Barefoot in the Park is no surprise to me: In my book, Neil Simon was never a playwright. Forty years ago, a canny director and lovable actors could make this thin string of jokes seem adorable, but decades after the candy’s been eaten, who needs the stale box?
The tenuous tale of a newlywed couple’s struggles with a tiny Greenwich Village flat would look quaintly passé today even if there were some reality to it, but Scott Elliott’s direction, passionately pursuing the minutiae of the reality that isn’t there, snuffs out any slight hint of playfulness. Amanda Peet, as the would-be bohemian young wife, acts strictly by the numbers. The dubious midlife romance of her suburban mom and the shifty sybarite upstairs is embodied by Jill Clayburgh and Tony Roberts, solid but resolutely uncomic professionals who can service an existing laugh (the script holds about six) but not create a new one. Only Patrick Wilson, skilled at taking center stage in musicals, brings dimension and humor to the role of the priggish bridegroom. And speaking of reality, Elliott’s choice of ’60s music is as far from the characters’ tastes as Isaac Mizrahi’s self-conscious designer clothes would be from their wardrobes.