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`BAREFOOT IN THE PARK' AS FRESH AS EVER

Two years before "The Odd Couple," Neil Simon gave Broadway this odd couple: stuffed-shirt lawyer Paul Bratter and Corie, his free-spirited bride of barely a week.

Although "Barefoot in the Park" is nearly 25 years old, this production comes off as fresh as ever, with all the laughs intact.This comedy was one of Simon's earliest successes, and I haven't seen it for several years. Going in, I was a little apprehensive, fearing that maybe, after all this time, it had become a creaky antique.

But coming out, I was pleased to find that the bright comedy is still there. Even my 13-year-old daughter, who had never seen it before (and who is always leary of being dragged into plays that her fuddy-duddy father might like) thought this was a real hoot.

In the wrong hands, "Barefoot in the Park" could end up being a disaster. But this was supervised by one of the most skillful directing teams around - John and Tamara Adams - who give the show a bright, lively, rapid-fire pace.

The hilarious battle of the sexes has a small cast - only four main characters, plus two others with intermittent, but important, appearances. Because all Hale Center Theater plays are doublecast, I saw the Tuesay/Thursday/Saturday lineup, which was terrific.

It was especially nice to see Alisa Harris in the lead role as Corie. Harris has done several productions at Desert Star Playhouse, and we knew she had a fine sense of comedy timing, but this was a real stretch. She gave a near-perfect performance as the spunky newlywed with a mind of her own.

Gary David Anderson keeps up with her, too, as the frustrated young attorney coping with several trials, only one of which is in the courtroom. There are his wife's antics, an apartment without any furniture, five floors of stairs to climb (six, if you count the stoop in front) and his daffy mother-in-law's comings and goings.

Darleen Merrihew, as Corie's mother, is hilarious from the time she comes wheezing and staggering into the apartment (having a fifth-floor apartment will either kill off all your friends and relatives, or make them physically fit), until she vanishes with Victor (Bryan Gardner), the lothario who lives in the attic - reached by climbing through the Bratters' bedroom window.

One clever change in the staging has been shifting of the intermission to the middle of Act Two, then using a team of stagehands (all wearing Santini Brothers Moving Co. T-shirts and constantly out of breath from climbing all those stairs) to move the sofas, tables and chairs into the newlyweds' apartment. The movers got a well deserved round of applause.

"Barefoot in the Park" is the kind of play the Hales do best - bright, breezy, never-a-dull-moment comedy with lots of guffaws and plenty of action.