Directed by Michael Leeds
Comedy about Hot Lover Hasn’t Cooled
Overweight owner of a fish restaurant, 47-year-old Barney Cashman (Ken Clement) has been married to the same women — his high school sweetheart — for 23 years. He has been faithful throughout the marriage and, in fact, has had only one other sexual experience, a rather dismal 15 minutes with a dingy prostitute in his brief single days. Now — he hopes — things will be different. Barney is ready for an affair.
The stage for the seduction is set — his mother’s apartment in an afternoon when she will not be home. He is prepared — carrying drinks in his small suitcase, and making sure his hands do not smell of fish. The Last of the Red Hot Lovers is ready and more than willing as playwright Neil Simon sets him up for three attempts at “getting laid.” No — Barney want more than this. He wants the affair to be romantic — a meeting a soul mates–an unforgettable experience.
And so, the audience is privy to Barney entering his mom’s apartment, lowering the shades so no one can see in, pushing aside the bowl of artificial fruit on the table so he can open his suitcase and take out a bottle of booze. The fun is in the gradual progressions as the scene is repeated with significant variations. The booze moves from scotch to champagne. The glasses evolve from tumblers to flutes. And Barney changes, growing every more involved and more competent. It is all hilarious — filled with snappy repartee and shenanigans.
Kudos to Clement for really nailing the role of an awkward, shy, inept, eager, highly vulnerable man who is more than a mere lothario.
And then there are the women – all portrayed with great skill and aplomb! This comedy is a showcase for actors. While each woman is onstage for only one scene, each gets the opportunity to flesh out her idiosyncratic role when facing off against Barney.
Elissa D. Solomon plays blond, brash, brittle Elaine Navazio, who is eager for the liaison (and a cigarette) but ultimately turned off by Cashman’s sheer verbiage — including his recital of alliterative menu items from his restaurant. He want to explain his creativity, to talk, to get to know each other (in the available hour and a half) and she wants more — far more. For the second encounter, Shira Abergel takes the role of wild, crazy Bobbi Michelle, the hippy that Cashman picked up in a local park. Now he must become the listener as she pours out fantastic and chaotic tales of her disjointed life. Sex takes second fiddle when Cashman — against his will and better judgment turns on to pot. And the third in this ever downwardly spiraling trio is played by Carol Sussman as Jeanette Fisher, in direct contrast to those who have preceded her. Age-appropriate and melancholy, Fisher, a friend of Cashman’s wife, appears clinically depressed over her own husband’s peccadilloes. Her sighs and sufferings are palpable.
Over this all hovers the unseen presence of Cashman’s fastidious mother who would surely notice if even a couch cushion became out of place in her apartment.
The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, written in 1969, was a long running Broadway hit with 706 performances and a less successful 1972 film (with Alan Arkin, Sally Kellerman and Paula Prentiss). Now, in the intimate surroundings of the Stage Door Theater, it is in a perfect venue.
Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs, 8036 W. Sample Rd, 954-344-7765, www.stagedoortheatre.com Tickets $38- $42. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm through March 4. Running time 2 hours and 15 minutes (including a 15-minute intermission).