By Julie Garisto, Arts and Entertainment Editor Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Last of the Red Hot Lovers made its Broadway debut in 1969, when the wholesome ideals of the post-World War II generation bumped up against the proclivities of the Sexual Revolution. A then 42-year-old Neil Simon showed us what it was like to be caught between both worlds, giving us theater’s quintessential victim of midlife crisis, Barney Cashman.
Cashman is a neurotic, well-intentioned if somewhat misguided seafood restaurateur who feels his life and marriage have become too predictable, and attempts to spice both up with some hot action on the side. He sets up a makeshift bachelor pad at his ma’s place while she’s away doing volunteer work at the hospital. After a trio of bumbling attempts to squire ladies away to the tiny apartment’s sofa bed, the play ends on a note that is both predictable (though pleasantly so) and a reminder of which side of the generational divide both Barney and Simon were born on.
Greg Thompson is nuanced and convincing as the bumbling Barney. He maneuvers some truly awkward moments, overly long monologues and botched seductions with nearly perfect finesse. Onstage, Thompson appears to be around 10 years too old for the part, but we won’t fault him for that.
Natalie Symons steals the show as the experienced and whip-smart Elaine, Cashman’s first object of seduction. She offers the funniest, laugh-out-loud lines in the show (“Is that bottle going to just sit there or are you going to make a lamp out of it?”).
Erin Foster as hippie Bobbi is adorably flighty. The attractive blonde in a minidress and knee-high boots conjures a mix of Marcia Brady and Amy Poehler as she rambles on about her dysfunctional exploits and puffs on a joint. Though her part comes across as a little too canned, Foster brings a spunk that makes us forget that Bobbi’s trysts don’t smack us with the same shock value they had 46 years ago. Susan Haldeman, the third in the play’s trio, starts out stodgy as Thelma, Barney’s best friend’s wife, but delivers some poignant, revelatory moments as she tries to figure out why the heck she’s in Barney’s mother’s apartment.
Simon’s script inhibits what could be flawless performances. The famed comedic playwright wrote Red Hot Lovers as a departure from his lighter fare, intentionally inserting ponderous dialogue about life and identity. While his musings do hit home, and eloquently so, the pace trudges occasionally under the weight of Simon’s verbosity.
Making it all worthwhile: director Georgia Mallory Guy. Her time-period-authentic production taps our retro nostalgia — for some of us, at its peak as we anticipate the return of Mad Men.
Melinda Kajando’s spiffy costume design and another fantastic set by Frank Chavez are perhaps the biggest stars. Eric Haak built Chavez’s set, and scenic artist Rebekah Lazaridis conjured a 1960s home with an orange sofa and obligatory yarn throw, hanging lamps and even some gold-painted TV trays off to the side.
Stageworks continues a tradition of Neil Simon comedies with the playwright’s midlife sex comedy.
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