Barefoot and Banter
Director Jason Maddy discusses Simon, Shakespeare, and situational comedy…
Jason Maddy pauses before he responds to the question of whether or not working on Neil Simon is similar to working on Shakespeare.
“I think there’s parallels in all great writers,” he finally says. “There’s always a path to the characters somewhere in the writing. You just have to find it.”
Charged with the task of directing Intrepid’s upcoming staged reading of Barefoot in the Park, Jason is thankful that these parallels do, in fact, exist. While he has taken a turn on stage playing the character of Paul, directing this Simon classic is another story entirely.
“It’s different viewing the story through the eyes of other characters,” he explains. “Because I played Paul once, he will always be a part of me. But the story is really Corie’s. It’s her journey. The rest of the characters are a part of that journey.”
Barefoot in the Park is set in New York City in the new brownstone apartment of Corie and Paul, who are newlyweds. Hilarity ensues as they manage parents, neighbors, and the challenges of their new married relationship. While on Broadway in the 1960s, it was nominated for three Tony Awards and became Neil Simon’s longest running production, with over 1,500 performances.
Jason cites many connections between Shakespeare and Simon, and he would know, having taken the stage with Intrepid in both Macbeth and Richard II. While his Shakespeare work here has been of a somewhat darker nature, he feels confident in his abilities to handle Simon’s somewhat lighter fare, partly because of these connections and his own past experience with the play. He points out that most of us know Neil Simon better than we think we do, as this playwright has perhaps contributed more to our social understanding of comedy than we realize.
“He’s the father of situational humor,” he says. “We owe a lot of our understanding of how comedy works to his writing.”
Addressing the comedy is also part of the challenge, however, especially in a staged reading format. “Some actors go over the top, and some actors are too natural. It’s exciting to help them walk that tightrope between honesty and comic timing.”
But most of all, the parallels to Shakespeare land within the text. Just as Intrepid’s mission statement cites the importance of the playwright’s words as the main source of illumination, Jason takes this approach with Simon as well.
“The play is really in the rhythm of the words. Once we find Simon’s pace within the situation and the text, that is when we find the story.”
Shakespeare probably wouldn’t have said it better. — T.T.
Barefoot in the Park (a staged reading). Wednesday, December 5. Encinitas Library 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas. Tickets $10 – Purchase in advance here or RSVP here and pay cash at the door. Reception at 7:00 pm, reading at 7:30 pm.