If you haven’t been out to the Camarillo Skyway Playhouse lately, here are two great reasons to go: Mariah Tobin and Dakota Heer. The pair are starring in CSP’s new production of Barefoot In the Park, and in our view, these are two breakout performers who are capable of going a long way in the theater. Of course when you have a play written by the late Neil Simon, you’re already ahead of the game, but Mariah and Dakota are phenomenal in this show, playing, respectively, Corie and Paul Bratter, two newlyweds who move into a shabby fifth-floor walkup in New York City and are faced with more than just getting used to living with one another for the first time. Our review will be in this week’s Acorn, but after Sunday’s matinee, we cornered Mariah and Dakota to talk about the show.
VCOS: I was told by Patrick Rogers, your director, that after you two auditioned, he wanted to stop the casting call.
MARIAH: (laughing) Yeah, I heard that too!
VCOS: So after playing supporting and ensemble roles, both of you are now starring in your own show, and it happens to be one of the all-time classics. Even among Neil Simon’s plays, it stands out as his longest running show. Is that at all intimidating to you?
MARIAH: Well, I was already psyching myself out going into it. This is my first show outside of school or the Hillcrest Center, so I was nervous about going into a different theater. And also, my mother played this part when she was in high school, so I felt like I had a lot to prove or to live up to. And it was overwhelming. On top of that, it being such a well-known show and something that people grew up with, they come and they think, “Jane Fonda! Robert Redford!” A cute romance, blonde hair, and all that…
VCOS: Are you trying to make your characters more real than them? Because no matter how hard they try to be these normal newlyweds, they are still Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, and they look out of place in that rundown apartment. They’re just too glamorous.
DAKOTA: I think that’s something I strive for in my acting: more realism.
MARIAH: Me, too. I like going more for the realism, but also, I think there’s realism in Corie’s need to be glamorous and her hunger for it and for this beautiful life that she feels belongs to her. She believes it’s her destiny but she can’t quite get it right despite trying so hard.
DAKOTA: I think she does look through the world through rose-colored glasses. Her real world is this sort of glamorized, romanticized version.
VCOS: What I see is a transition that this couple represents, moving from the stodgy ’50s to the swinging ’60s, where Paul represents the ’50s and Corie represents the ’60s.
MARIAH: Oh, she’s TOTALLY ready for the movement! She’s burning her bras in ten years.
VCOS: I can see her going to Woodstock, but not him.
MARIAH: For sure. He’s sitting at home, looking at his watch, going “Where is she?”
VCOS: How do you play with your characters over the course of the run? You’ve got a month-long run and you’ve just started out. Do you feel free to experiment with different bits of business or on stage actions while playing your part?
MARIAH: Well, tonight, I was definitely playing around a little bit more in the fight scene, and I’ve been trying to figure out good ways to ease into it, because she’s angry, but it’s because she loves Paul and wants him to be able to have a good time. She wants him to have fun and ease up and relax, so she’s desperate to have someone like that in her life. They are great in the bedroom and have terrific chemistry and all that but their personalities collide so much at certain points, but because they love each other so much, they are willing to have that fight so they can move on and be themselves.
DAKOTA: And I think that’s the great thing about this cast and this crew. Everyone has been so open to trust us and we’ve grown through that process, but we’re changing things every night.
MARIAH: I know! Everybody’s adjusting and they welcome it. Yes, please, give us some fun, give us something new and different.
VCOS: I love the thing that Nora (Kay) does with Corie’s mom. She’s had a little too much to drink and she’s climbed five flights of stairs, she’s a little woozy and tipsy, and she’s sitting on the couch next to Paul and she starts to lean ever so slowly to her right.
DAKOTA: That was Nora’s idea! And I’m rolling with it, and I’m thinking, well, if you’re going to start falling, I’m just going to push you back up. And then she started going the other way and I thought, OK, I see where this is going.
MARIAH: Was I turned away? I didn’t see that.
DAKOTA: That was when you and Velasco are out getting the coffee. I wish you could have seen that.
MARIAH: Oh, I don’t see that because I’m gone. But people loved it. But you and Nora were so funny together.
DAKOTA: I think everybody has a really great connection going, but I think that the last show we do is going to be so different from the first show we did.
MARIAH: Yeah, I think it’s going to be different every single night! It just totally depends on how we’re feeling and how much fun we’re having.
VCOS: Talk about the timelessness of the show. Other than the rotary telephone and the old-fashioned stove and refrigerator, this could be happening today.
MARIAH: Absolutely. With rent rates what they are today? For sure.
DAKOTA: Every person who I brought to see the show has said, “I’ve had those arguments with one of my exes or with my current partner.” Those kind of fights and those kind of conflicts are so everpresent.
MARIAH: They’re just so honest.
VCOS: And by the end of the argument, you forget how it even started.
MARIAH: No, you never do.
VCOS: If you could give advice to your character, what would you say?
DAKOTA: That’s tough because there’s a lot of me in Paul. It would be just to relax. If we’re not super-on-time, it’s not the end of the world. And if things don’t go exactly according to plan, it’s also not the end of the world. Just relax and try to have fun.
VCOS: And what would you tell Corie, Mariah?
MARIAH: Funny enough, I would tell her the exact same thing.
MARIAH: Yeah. Relax. Because she’s so eager to please the world and fit into this type of idealized woman that she grew up seeing in magazines, and she is so desperate to have that American Dream, that “housewife” feeling, but she just can’t quite get it right. I don’t know if she knows why she can’t or even if she’s ready to do it, but like her mom says, she just jumps into life and is so impulsive, and if she just relaxed for a bit, everything would fall into place and she would realize that the woman who she is is enough. Paul loves her because she isn’t perfect.
DAKOTA: It’s almost like we’re both holding our breath from the moment the play starts until the last scene. And finally we just exhale.
VCOS: Your mom Suzanne is also an actress. Has she seen you in it yet?
MARIAH: She saw it on opening night and she loved it. She was so excited and proud and it took her back to when she played Corie in high school probably something like 35 years ago, but it meant a lot for her to see me in it. I was looking at her and she had tears in her eyes and was so proud of me. And I feel the same kind of connection as Corie has with her mom. My mom and I goof around a little bit more because we’re both crazy, but those conversations Corie has with Ethel I’ve had with my own mom, so on stage, it’s really special for me to have her be able to see me.
VCOS: Did she give you any advice in playing Corie?
MARIAH: Not really. Honestly, I’m barely ever home anyway, I’m either working or I’m here. But for her to see this, knowing how stressed I’ve been and how crazy I’ve been working, it was nice.
VCOS: The both of you were absolutely terrific in this show. You’ve done it just the way it’s supposed to be done and I’m sure Neil Simon would have stood up and applauded for you if he were here.
MARIAH: Thank you!
DAKOTA: Absolutely. We appreciate it!
Barefoot In the Park plays through September 15 at the Camarillo Skyway Playhouse. For tickets, click on the ad at the top of the VC On Stage home page. Check the Calendar for dates and show times.