ST. MARTINVILLE — Steven “Smitty” Smith Jr., 25, got nominated. That’s how he finds himself directing Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” which opens Friday at the Duchamp Opera House.
“I’m on the board of directors for the Evangeline Players and we were short a director and — I just kind of got nominated to do it,” said the first-time director, prior to the start of rehearsal Tuesday.
Smith called “Barefoot in the Park” a classic and said it’s a play people already know and love. Penned by Simon — most famous for writing “The Odd Couple” — the comedy follows newlyweds Corie and Paul Bratter in New York City. It was one of Simon’s longest running plays on Broadway, from 1963 to 1967.
“It’s your typical newlyweds who adjust to their new living situation,” Smith said.
The story, rife with Simon one-liners, gives a glimpse of the first days of married life in a Manhattan brownstone in February. It’s complete with a mother who’s having trouble letting go and crazy neighbors, Smith said.
Paul Bratter is a lawyer just starting his career, while Corie Bratter is wild, free and even runs barefoot in the park in the winter. She’s played by Elizabeth Austin of Lafayette.
Austin said she’s excited about the role, in particular working with Daniel Ladmirault, of New Iberia, who plays Paul. She said they met in an acting class in Lafayette about two years and she thought they would have good chemistry in the lead roles, so she asked him to audition with her. And they both got the part.
“I knew that he was an excellent actor, but his Paul has exceeded my wildest expectations,” she said.
Austin said she’s been acting since childhood, but also holds a law degree from LSU. She’s pursuing acting full-time, she said, taking advantage of the many opportunities in the industry across the state because of the tax incentives Louisiana offers films and television shows.
And Austin said she’s having no trouble getting into character for this production.
“I absolutely love Corie Bratter, my character. She’s fun. She’s vivacious. She’s a free spirit. And she’s spontaneous,” she said.
"I absolutely love Corie Bratter, my character. She’s fun. She’s vivacious. She’s a free spirit. And she’s spontaneous."
Her counterpart Ladmirault said he’s been acting about 30 years and has done several Simon plays but never “Barefoot in the Park.” And it’s something he’s always wanted to do.
“Neil Simon is foolproof — it’s all in the words; it’s all in the jokes. He lays it out for you,” Ladmirault said.
Meanwhile, Smith is adapting to his role. A veteran actor with the Evangeline Players, Smith said taking a turn as director was a “change.” Usually, he only has to think about his own lines.
“Being a director you have to worry about everybody and all their lines and the set,” he said.
Smith said it’s been an adjustment that carries a lot of responsibility, but he’s enjoying himself and reveling in the challenge despite the stress that comes with the job.
“Sometimes I find myself laying awake in bed, thinking about the set, thinking about something else we can do — maybe make it funnier or try something in a scene,” he said.
But Smith said the cast and crew have been great. He said Leah Pratt of St. Martinville, who did the set decorations and serves as an understudy for the Corie Bratter character, has been particularly helpful.
“I couldn’t ask for a better cast,” Smith said.
The play opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Duchamp Opera House in St. Martinville. Shows continue at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. The following week’s shows will start at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12 and Oct. 13 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 14.
Tickets are $10 each and are available by calling the Duchamp Opera House at 394-6604 or Shamrock Office Supply at 394-5574.