Last of the Red Hot Lovers
By Geary Danihy
It’s the early 70s, and everyone is blissfully being swept up by the sexual revolution, everyone that is but Barney Cashman, the owner of a seafood restaurant who, after 23 years of marital fidelity, is looking for a little bit of love on the side in all the wrong places.
Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company has chosen to close its season with Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and it is a very wise decision, for the production is going to make both first-timers and subscribers want to come back for more.
Joan Meehan, Danielle Sultini, Dan Arenovski, & Michelle Duncan.
The play is broken into three acts, each covering an attempt by Barney (Dan Arenovski) to score by inviting a woman for a two-hour tryst in his mother’s apartment (the dear lady’s out volunteering at a hospital). Thus, Arenovski is on stage the entire hour and 50 minutes and if his interpretation of a nebbish on the prowl is anything but letter-perfect the play suffers. The play doesn’t suffer.
Expressive body language, nuanced facial expressions and killer timing make Arenovski’s Barney a hilariously hapless yet entirely believable loser in the game of seduction. From his initial appearance as a blue-suited, up-tight nice Jewish man to his third incarnation as a wannabe swinger, Arenovski gets just about everything right; whether it’s his sensitivity about his hands (the vague odor of clams is never far away), his anal-retentive neatness lest his mother discover the use to which he is attempting to put her apartment, or his growing frustration at his inability to “score,” it all simply, delightfully works.
Much the same can be said for the three actresses who portray Barney’s amorous prey, the first of whom is a wise-cracking, bed-hopping Elaine Navazio, played with a wry, New York edge by a sultry Danielle Sultini. One might quibble that Sultini never offers more than that edge…throughout most of the act her lines are delivered with a consistent dose of the sardonic that toys with monotony, but there’s fire behind the character, which Sultini reveals near the first act’s close.
Barney’s initial failed attempt leads him to pick up Bobbi Michele (Michelle Duncan) after a chance meeting in a park. Playing this out-of-work actress who is more than slightly deranged, Duncan gives the audience a hyperkinetic kook with just a touch of the sociopath. The act’s closing scene has Barney and Bobbi getting high on marijuana – Bobbi enjoys the brief trip while Barney ends up on the floor staring out at the audience through the legs of a coffee table. It’s a great piece of farce nicely directed by Tom Holehan.
Barney’s final foray is with the wife of a couple he and his wife have known for 12 years. Jeanette Fisher (Joan Meehan) is suffering from a severe case of melancholia with a distinct Jewish spin to it. Her happiness “percent” is at 8.2 and she proceeds to explain to Barney, as he tries to cajole her into putting down the purse she clutches to her bosom, just why her life is so miserable and everyone is such a rotter.
Jeanette’s shtick is guilt – no surprise there, and if Meehan lays it on perhaps a bit too thickly at times, she can be excused. By the end of the act, her one-dimension has blossomed into a full-fledged character who, in another well-directed scene, must escape the clutches of a by now totally frustrated Barney.
The play ends with a somewhat ponderous message that, fortunately, is dealt with in a brisk manner. After that is gotten out of the way, Barney decides that rather than waste the champagne he had thought to share with Jeanette he might as well accept the inevitable and invite his wife to join him for a little…but this is Barney, and his luck runs true to form right to the very last line of the play.
Last of the Red Hot Lovers runs through Saturday, May 31. For tickets or more information call 375-8778 or go to www.squareonetheatre.com. To learn what other critics think of this production or to see what’s playing in theaters throughout Connecticut go to www.ctcritics.org.
(This review originally appeared in the Norwalk Citizen-News)