The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Barefoot in the Park begins with Corie Bratter’s rapturous examination of her empty apartment. She is interrupted by Harry Pepper, a repairman who has come to install the Bratters’ new telephone. Not only is it a six-flight climb, but also the apartment is extremely cold because it has no working heating system. After the repairman leaves, Paul Bratter arrives, out of breath and freezing. He is twenty-six, conservative, and very excited about getting his first court case. Because of this assignment, however, there will be little time to celebrate being in the new apartment. The only things that distract Paul are the apartment’s temperature and the large hole in the skylight.

Mrs. Ethel Banks, Corie’s widowed mother, is an unexpected guest; she is not especially captivated by the apartment, although she tries to disguise her disappointment. Mrs. Banks is at loose ends; her life has no direction. Before she leaves, Mrs. Banks is given a firm piece of advice by Corie: She must plunge into life in the hope of finding someone to love.

Paul returns from an errand with news about the denizens of the building, especially Victor Velasco, who lives in the attic. After Paul begins working on his brief, Corie, left alone in the living room, meets Velasco, who has come to ask permission to use their bedroom window as a path to his apartment, which has been locked because he is behind with the rent. He immediately charms Corie, who realizes that she has found a dinner companion for her mother. Act 1 ends with Corie making dinner plans and a stunned Paul watching through the skylight as Velasco carefully makes his way along the outside ledge to his apartment.

The first scene of act 2 begins on a Friday evening four days later. The apartment is almost completely furnished, though in an eclectic style. Corie rushes in, followed by Paul, who has not had the most pleasant of days and is hardly in the mood for a social evening. It is he who warns Corie that pairing her mother with Velasco might not be a particularly good idea, because not only is her mother not expecting a dinner companion, but she and Velasco also have very different ways of dealing with life.

Mrs. Banks arrives excited at the prospect of meeting Paul’s parents again—or so Corie has told her. Her blind date with Velasco is disclosed just as he arrives with a plate of...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Barefoot in the Park does not incorporate unusual language, makeup, costuming, or plot. However, the play’s very ordinariness is its strength. Concentrating on human relationships in a realistic setting is what Simon’s writing is about—which is not to say that he has not found ways to illuminate the characters and their personalities.

New York City, though never really seen, is always present. The eclectic nature of the city is revealed through the neighbors who are and are not onstage. Certainly Velasco, with his charmingly idiosyncratic ways, is emblematic of the city as a whole.

The apartment is used in many ways. Its condition as Corie and Paul move in is a comment on the initial neutrality of the new marriage. After a few days, the apartment takes on the aspects of its new inhabitants. In fact, in his stage directions for act 2, scene 1, Simon describes the room’s furnishings and decorations in great detail: “although a pot-pourri of various periods, styles and prices,” the apartment is now “extremely tasteful and comfortable.” Perhaps the same might be said for the marriage.

The reactions of the characters to the city and especially to the apartment are highly significant. Paul and Mrs. Banks, conservative in nature, have actual physical reactions to the flights of stairs leading to the apartment; they also react strongly to the exotic food and drink available in the city. Corie and Velasco have no problems initially, but they are not completely typical of the city any more than Paul and Mrs. Banks are. By the end of the play, Paul has walked barefoot in the park, and Mrs. Banks has spent the night without her bed board. Similarly, the free-spirited Corie eventually lectures her mother and Paul about responsibility, and Velasco finds that he is not as young as he thought he was. These changing relationships are the means that Simon uses to show how very different people can learn to understand and identify with one another.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Johnson, Robert K. Neil Simon. Boston: Twayne, 1983.

Konas, Gary, ed. Neil Simon: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1997.

McGovern, Edythe M. Neil Simon: A Critical Study. New York: Ungar, 1979.

The New Yorker. Review of Barefoot in the Park. November 2, 1963, 93.

Simon, Neil. Rewrites: A Memoir. New York: Touchstone, 1996.

Time. Review of Barefoot in the Park. November 1, 1963, 74.