Will Crouch and Sarah Walton are theater veterans on their college campus, but will be making their Playcrafters Barn Theatre debut this weekend in Moline.
The Augustana seniors play newlyweds Paul and Corie Bratter in Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” directed by Adam Lewis, which opens on Friday, Feb. 10 at the theater, 4950 35th Ave., Moline.
The 1963 romantic comedy (which ran for 1,530 performances) was made into a 1967 film, directed by Gene Saks from a screenplay by Neil Simon, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.
Paul is a straight-as-an-arrow lawyer and she’s a free spirit always looking for the latest kick, according to a synopsis. Their new apartment is her most recent find – too expensive with bad plumbing and needing a paint job.
After a six-day honeymoon, they get a surprise visit from Corie’s mother and decide to play matchmaker during a dinner with their neighbor-in-the-attic, Victor Velasco, where everything that can go wrong does. Paul just doesn’t understand Corie, as she sees it. She just wants him to be a little more spontaneous. Running “barefoot in the park” would be a start…
Crouch (who’s from outside Peoria) has seen the movie but Walton intentionally did not, knowing it would be so different from the stage version. “I didn’t want to be influenced by it,” she said this week.
“The thing I notice about Paul, he is very much a homebody,” Crouch said. “As opposed to things that she might want to do, like try this Albanian restaurant about 20 miles away. He’s a bit more reserved; I can understand him being strait-laced.”
Walton sees herself in Corie.
“She’s extremely personable, outgoing and adventurous,” she said. “That’s something I’ve always prided myself on, to try new things, to get out of your comfort zone. I love that part of the character.
“It’s been really fun,” Walton said. “Most of the characters I play are more mature and I feel like I can be looser here.”
Walton (from New Lenox, Ill., a suburb of Chicago) majors in Multimedia Journalism, Communication Studies, and Theatre Performance.
Some of her favorite credits have included Pamela/Margaret/Annabella in “The 39 Steps,” Little Red in “Into the Woods,” Jordan in “Island Song,” Jane/Valerie in “Speaking In Tongues,” Fiona in “Shrek,” and Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.”
In her free time, you can catch her performing with both GIT Improv and Augustana’s Heywire Improv Troupe.
Walton has done improv at Augie for three years, and GIT owner Jeff Adamson asked her to join his troupe, at Moline’s Black Box Theatre.
She said her improv background allows her to make more choices in varying her character in each performance, even in little ways.
“Improv is a skill, like jazz in performance,” Lewis (who also does GIT) said. “If a prop is in a wrong place, you have to react, or if something falls, you pick it up. If someone drops a line, what do you do?”
This is Walton’s first QC community theater; Crouch was in the 2021 “Rocky Horror Show” at The Speakeasy as Rocky. He acted in some Peoria area shows as a teenager, including Edna in “Hairspray” in 2019.
Crouch’s credits include “39 Steps” (Richard Hannay), “Tartuffe” (Tartuffe), “One Flea Spare” (Kabe), “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” and “Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook.”
At Augustana, he is getting his education degree. When he isn’t in school or performing in shows, Crouch enjoys performing stand-up comedy and writing.
From Macomb to Moline
Director Adam Lewis is a theater instructor at Western Illinois University, since 2009. He earned his bachelor’s degree in theater from Bradley University, his MFA in acting at WIU, and also has studied and performed with award-winning improvisational organization ComedySportz and its touring company, Guys In Ties.
Over the last 20 years, Lewis has taught and coached actors at Bradley University, Black Hawk College, and the former Curtainbox Conservatory.
He acted in Simon’s “Chapter Two” at Shawnee, Ind., about five years ago.
“Most would say that comedy is harder and I tend to agree with that,” Lewis said this week of comedy vs. drama. “You really don’t know whether things work until you get an audience, but these guys have needed an audience for about a week now.”
Lewis commutes from Macomb and is looking forward to WIU’s construction of the new performing arts center on campus.
Walton performs in GIT Improv with Lewis, and heard about the show from him.
“It’s been a great process – the cast and crew, we all get along really well,” she said. “For the rehearsal period we had, it was crunch time from when we started. We hit the ground hard, but we all held up our end and it all came together, and it’s worked out really well.”
While the cast (six total) has had scripts since late December, they have only had about two and a half weeks of actual rehearsals. The director asked them to start rehearsals with their lines memorized.
Over New Year’s, Walton worked on memorizing while on vacation in Cancun.
In October, she got to go to Nepal, Africa for the month, to teach a journalism class with her professor. That was through the nonprofit Girl Reports. Walton worked at an all-girls high school, teaching photojournalism.
“That was so rewarding,” she said. “I loved every single minute of being there. They were just incredible girls.”
“A marathon, not a sprint”
“This show is a marathon, not a sprint,” Crouch said of “Barefoot in the Park,” noting Walton is on stage virtually the entire time. In the 97-page script, she’s on for all but like three of them, she said.
At Playcrafters, with a thrust stage, they’re very close to audience members. “I like to be this close to the audience – it makes it more realistic,” Walton said.
As a director, Lewis said in a theater with audience on three sides, you have to make sure the actors spread out to “give every space a little bit of love,” he said.
The “Barefoot” cast features Alexa Florence of Bettendorf, Jim Strauss of Davenport, Thayne Lamb of Milan, and Jake Ladd of Moline.
Performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (Feb. 10-11, 17-18), and a 3 p.m. matinee on Sundays (Feb. 12 and 19). Tickets ($15, $13 for military and seniors) are available at 309-762-0330 or the Playcrafters website HERE. Tickets will also be for sale at the door, while available.