Director and real-life couple shake up ‘Park’

Print This Page

First Posted: 5/6/2013

A newly married couple should find bliss in every moment, happiness at every turn, and bask in the glow of the “honeymoon” period for quite some time – unless, of course you’re Paul and Corie Bratter, lead characters in the stage show “Barefoot in the Park.”

There’s no doubt that the two love each other, but when clashing personalities mix in with a new living situation in New York City, a loopy relative, and a bout of matchmaking, well, things aren’t quite as rosy as they should be.

This weekend, Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre will open its production of the hilarious and charming Neil Simon show, with a couple of twists of its own.

For starters, the script was originally written in the 1960s and, while most productions aim to keep it that way, director Lori Colacito decided to change things up a bit.

“Well, first off, it’s a script that deals with a newlywed couple who have never lived together before, and nowadays, that’s typically unheard of,” she began, “so I ended up updating the show and placing it in modern times. There were a few lines that reference old actors or old places that don’t exist anymore, so changing that up has been really fun.”

Colacito also eradicated a stage “blackout,” where the scenery switches from a just-bought empty apartment to a fully decorated one with the help of stage crew in about 30 seconds. Instead, Colacito decided to make it a two-minute scene of the characters actively moving in, something that not only keeps the audience within the story, but helps build the plot.

“It’s really showing the difference between the two characters. He’s very uptight and she’s a free spirit, so they approach everything differently, even the way they decorate the apartment.”

The polar opposite couple provides plenty of laughs and a show that never has a dull moment, according to Colacito. The actors that play the leads, Tom Franko, 25, of Danville, and Maureen Hozempa, 28, of Dallas, also add a touch of uniqueness to the production in that they’re a couple in real life, one that has been dating for a little over five months and who bears a striking personality resemblance to their characters.

“It’s kind of funny because his character is taking Tom to the extreme, while Corie is taking me to an extreme,” Hozempa pointed out. “Tom has a goofy side, of course, but he’s the worrier that has to have everything in line, and I’m just standing there going, ‘Oh, everything will be ok!’”

When Hozempa speaks of extremes with the characters, it’s not a word to be taken lightly.

“Corie takes things as they go. She doesn’t really think logically about everything; she’s very much about having a good time,” Hozempa said of her character. “If a problem happens, whatever, don’t worry about it; you fix it as it goes. She’s a lot of fun and likes crazy random things.”

Which drives her counterpart nuts.

“Paul is almost the exact opposite of her,” Franko said. “He’s very uptown, fresh out of law school; and he was always brought up with the finer things. Everything’s very laid out, by the book, must be planned six months ahead to make sure any decision has no ramifications.”

What makes such opposites work, however, is the inherent chemistry between them, which Hozempa and Franko bring in spades even offstage. To sit with them is to watch a natural flow, so it’s no wonder that Franko feels that acting in the show opposite one another is an easy task.

They both also call attention to the fact that there is some sort of balance achieved between the characters, which ultimately make them work so well.

“Paul gives Corie the structure she needs in her life,” Hozempa said. “I also think she likes to kind of poke and push his buttons.”

“I think there’s a void that everybody has that something has to fill,” Franko added. “That quirkiness that Corie has, deep down Paul has it; he just never lets it out. He sees part of what he wants to be in her, she wants the structure he has; they each want what the other one has, which makes them balance each other out.”

Other characters that add to the hilarity of the situation are Corie’s mother, Mrs. Banks, played by Christa Manning; Victor, played by John Schugard; and Telephone Guy, played by Adam Moore.