Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 197
Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon is a play about a newlywed couple. Paul Bratter is an attorney. The Bratters live in an apartment in Manhattan. However, Corie, Paul’s wife, is not satisfied with the state of their new home. The plumbing is poor and the rooms require a fresh coat of paint. Corie loves adventure and finds her husband boring.
The couple lives a floor below Victor Velasco, who has a charming personality. He is currently going through financial issues and has not paid his rent. Therefore, the property owner locked his apartment. For this reason, he has to use the Bratters’ bedroom window whenever he goes to his apartment. The neighbor becomes well acquainted with Corie despite Paul’s skepticism about him.
Corie tries to introduce Ethel Banks, her mother, to Velasco. Ethel is widowed and lonely. She constantly checks up on her daughter since she has no one else to talk to. Therefore, Corie organizes a blind date for Velasco and her mother. The Bratters accompany them so that it looks like a double date. While on the date, Corie and Paul realize that they do not have many things in common.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 724
In Barefoot in the Park, newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter have completed their six-day honeymoon and are moving into their first apartment. Corie is romantic, impulsive, and enthusiastic, while her husband is a proper, careful, even “stuffy” young attorney who is more concerned with his budding legal career than he is with helping to build their love nest and perpetuating the honeymoon atmosphere. Soon Corie and Paul quarrel, Paul questioning Corie’s judgment and Corie questioning Paul’s sense of romance and adventure. Complicating their discord is Corie’s attempt to enliven the life of her widowed mother, Ethel. Against Paul’s advice, Corie tricks her mother into a blind date with their eccentric neighbor, Victor Velasco, who skis, climbs mountains, and is known as “The Bluebeard of 48th Street.”
By the end of act 2, the question of the blind date has precipitated such a conflict between Corie and Paul that they agree to divorce, and in act 3, they fight over the settlement before Paul stalks out. Ethel and Velasco, however, reveal that they have found romance. Ethel has rediscovered her vitality, while Velasco has decided that he must act his age and settle down. After the new lovers depart, Paul returns, outrageously drunk, having walked barefoot in the park in the middle of winter to prove that he is not a “fuddy-duddy.” The newlyweds are reconciled and promise to live happily ever after.
Even in his first play, Simon had mastered the qualities that would make him enormously successful. First and foremost, Barefoot in the Park is clever and hilarious, filled with snappy dialogue and witty one-liners. One of the most famous of his “running gags” (a joke repeated for laughs) appears in this play. Because Paul and Corie’s apartment is on the fifth floor of their building, nearly all the characters suffer extreme exhaustion in the climb. The joke is carried throughout the play but continues to elicit laughter because Simon always finds a different angle when he repeats it.
Nevertheless, the limitation that has haunted Simon throughout his career is present: The humor of the one-liners overwhelms the potentially literary elements of the play. There is a clear sense that the characters and plot are simply serving as framework for the funny lines. As a result, the dramatic conflicts in the play do not seem real or deeply felt.
In act 3, for example, when Paul and Corie are arguing about their divorce, Simon manages to maintain the rich humor of the play, but he is not able to create a convincing sense of conflict at the same time. Corie exclaims that she wants Paul to move out immediately, and as Paul angrily begins to pack his suitcase, Corie says, “My divorce. When do I get my divorce?” Paul replies, “How should I know? They didn’t even send us our marriage license yet.” The one-liner reestablishes the play’s frivolous tone and creates the impression that there is really little at stake. There is no satiric attitude toward either point of view, no comic judgment of anyone’s folly, and really no thought process, only the explosive laughter that comes from the line. The dominant tone created by the one-liners suggests that this marital discord is both trivial and temporary, a condition that will be resolved painlessly in a happy ending.
Simon does attempt to make a serious point in his play, asserting that moderation will make everyone happier and that marriage is too important an institution to take lightly, but his sentiments strike most critics as conventional and not thought-provoking. Ironically, Simon’s penchant for safe sentiments traps him in this play. At a pivotal moment, when Corie’s mother is counseling Corie about how to resolve the marital conflict and get Paul back, Simon gives the mother some marriage-saving “wisdom” that dates the play and made it seriously anachronistic within a decade. What seemed to Simon in the early 1960’s to be conservative, conventional wisdom would soon become sexism in the 1970’s:It’s very simple. You’ve just got to give up a little of you for him. Don’t make everything a game. Just late at night in that little room upstairs. But take care of him. And make him feel important. And if you can do that, you’ll have a happy and wonderful marriage.
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