TR Robertson …. Extra-marital affairs are not funny, but in Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” they are hilarious. The incredible 4 person cast had the audience laughing every minute at the bungling behavior of middle aged Barney Cashman, played by the two-time San Diego Critics Circle Craig Noel Award winning Phil Johnson, as he attempts to deal with three very different women and the mine-field of having an affair.
Neil Simon’s list of accomplishments would fill this entire review. He had 3 and 4 different Broadway shows on stage in New York City for years, not to mention the movie adaptations of his plays, television productions and other screenplays. “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” premiered on Broadway in 1969 at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. The play received 3 Tony Award nominations for 3 of the actors and actresses in the 4 person play. It was made into a film starring Alan Arkin in 1972 and in 2005 it was adapted into a Chinese edition which was extremely well received by audiences in China.
Photos by Aaron Rumley
The story is a simple one. Middle-aged, married restaurant owner Barney Cashman wants more out of life. He feels life has passed him by, feels he is in a rut and wants some excitement in his life to feel alive. He is 47 years old, married his high school sweet heart and feels he needs a change in his life. The play begins in December, in the late 60’s, as Barney arranges his first encounter in his mother’s apartment in New York City. Johnson had the audience chuckling in his meticulous preparations for his first meeting, including incessantly smelling his fingertips he had “deodorized” to rid them of the smell of oysters from his fish restaurant.
Barney’s first potential affair is with cold, callous and unemotional Elaine Navazio. Elaine is played by a North Coast Rep and San Diego county veteran, Katie Karel. She brings a wonderfully surly attitude to the stage helping squash Barney’s dream affair. Johnson and Karel have great chemistry with the quick paced lines of Simon’s play. Elaine, married herself, is a sexually driven, scotch drinking, tell-it-like-it-is woman who Barney is no match for. At one part Barney says to her, “Are you as cold as you sound?”, to which Elaine says, “I need gloves to take off my underwear”. Back and forth they go. Barney wants to talk and get to know her, Elaine wants to get it on. This causes Barney great anguish and at one point he goes on a tirade about life ignoring him, reading obituary columns to make sure his name isn’t there, calling his existence nice and wanting to experience something he has never experienced before. He says he wants something not sordid, which causes Elaine to respond, “Good luck on your impossible dream”.
Next comes the month of August. Months have passed after Barney’s dismal failure and now he is trying again with Bobbi Michele, whom he met in a park, invited her once again to his mother’s apartment, with the hopes of having a new fling in life. Once again, he will crash and burn, but this time with a younger girl with no desire to have sex with him, rather to unknowingly tease him with cooling herself by the air conditioner, stretching out in a variety of yoga positions, touching and sliding over him at opportune times, driving Barney nuts. Bobbi, played by Noelle Marion, is an aspiring actress, living in somewhat of a dream world, has had numerous unusual encounters with a variety of men and women, all of which she verbally shares with Barney, once again driving him nuts. Marion is making her North Coast Rep debut and gives a splendid performance as the ditzy, talkative, animated Bobbi. She moves around Barney like a gymnast on stage, leading to funny situations and the “pot” smoking scene with Barney is memorable. Once again, Barney goes up in flames.
The final lady we see enter Barney’s life is the wife of his best friend, in the month of September. Enter Jeanette Fisher. Jeanette has no clue why she accepted Barney’s invitation to meet him, once again his “affair” taking place in his mother’s New York City apartment. Barney has known Jeanette for 12 years. He took the opportunity to meet Jeanette after what he thought was her “coming on to” him at a dinner party. Jeanette is played by Sandy Campbell, returning to the Rep after 15 years. Jeanette’s lack of personality, her overly quiet nature is funny in more of what she doesn’t do or say than what she does. Her comments to Barney are biting. He discovers she doesn’t enjoy sex, she hasn’t slept with her husband in over 8 months, she doesn’t find Barney attractive (which she keeps repeating), and she is suffering from depression and is only happy 8.2% of the time. At one point, as she and Barney argue about their purpose here, she informs Barney that according to a study she read (possibly from Look magazine), 87% of the population has had an adulterous affair and 86% of the population is literate, meaning there are more cheaters than readers. But, she does get Barney to open up, maybe a little more than intended. Barney once again will have a hilarious encounter with his intended affair, as he comes to a realization “I love living, but I’m having some problems with my life”. One funny and challenging discussion they have is trying to list three people they find decent. This would make an interesting party discussion.
“Last of the Red Hot Lovers” is directed by Associate Artistic Director at NCP, Christopher Williams. Resident Scenic Designer Marty Burnett made a picture perfect 60’s living room with help from Prop Designer Andrea Gutierrez. Costume Designer Elisa Benzoni and Hair & Wig Designer Peter Herman provided a 60’s attire for Barney and the ladies.
This is a funny play, a little dated with the dialogue, but well worth seeing, especially if you are a Neil Simon fan. This talented cast will have you laughing and nodding your heads at Barney’s dilemma. The comedy runs until October 1st and tickets are available at 858-481-1055 or go to www.northcoastrep.org.