Review by Louisa Vilardi
Finding a Red Hot Lover: A Simple Quest, An Arduous Journey
How hard could it be to find a lover in the middle of New York City? According to the protagonist in Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers, hard. Really, really hard.
Last of the Red Hot Lovers, a comedy in three acts, follows a simple plot: Barney Cashman, a forty-something creature of habit and owner of a fish restaurant decides he wants more in life and takes the deceptive plunge to seek out other women, as he is set on having an extramarital affair. Seems easy enough, right? He separately brings three women to his mother’s apartment while she is volunteering her time elsewhere and he must not only hurdle three very different female personalities, but forcibly tackle his own impervious nature as well before trying to get one (or all) of these women in bed…or his mother’s pull out sofa.
Joe Eriole’s directorial debut is one of genius, as he sets the mood from the tippy-top of the show dimming the lights with Muddy Waters’ version of “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” I was prepared for the lights to come up on a provocative and sultry character who was ready to find (or be) one hot lover. Instead, Eriole juxtaposes the opening moment as the lights come up on Barney Cashman played by Scott Woolley who definitely serves as the perfect and homespun Cashman.
Woolley’s portrayal of Barney puts the audience on his side. He is an amateur cheater who we root for throughout the play to conquer his one goal: to have an affair. This is not normally something a good-willed human would support in life, but if you met Barney Cashman, you would feel differently. Woolley conquers a difficult role, as he dynamically changes with each woman he brings back to his mother’s apartment, which ultimately causes him to examine himself as a human being.
The first woman he meets with is Elaine, a chain-smoking regular at his restaurant, played by the ever-ready and zealous Amy Gustin. Gustin’s comedic timing is vital in Act I, as she revels in versatility and helps us realize that Barney is simply not ready for what he thinks he is so prepared for. She is amorous and Barney soon realizes that although this is what he has yearned for, he simply stumbles his way through committing to his decision to sleep with her. It doesn’t help that her smoker’s cough sounds like a muffler or that she is a let’s-just-get-this-over-with kind of gal. Gustin rules this act with passion and is malleable in her craft. She exits leaving Barney (and the audience) regretful that he wasn’t able to keep her around because, let’s face it, we could all watch Amy Gustin perform for much longer than one act.
Act II is one exciting adventure that leaves you wanting more. Have you ever been on a roller coaster, gotten off, and wanted to go back on again because it thrilled you? That’s Act II and that’s all because of Caitlin Connelly’s portrayal of Bobbi. Simon presents us with a paranoid actress/singer living with a lesbian vocal-coach/Nazi and who loves smoking stuff that’s almost as crazy as she is. Although Barney was hungry for this kind of energy in the bedroom, he soon realizes it is not the best fit. In the end, he could have lived out his dream of having an affair with her, but the pair ends up nuzzled on his mother’s couch…smoking. This is the moment we see Barney relinquish to Bobbi’s antics and he calmly finds some peace in the room and even with himself. Woolley and Connelly’s chemistry is so strong in this scene that it’s a shame that it didn’t work out between the two. Connelly’s wit and artistic choices leave us wishing there was time for one more roller coaster ride.
In true Neil Simon fashion, the end of his play hits home and reveals much about the human condition. It reinforces the realistic effect of having an affair for one or all parts: pure misery. Jeanette played by Kim Porcelli consumes Act III with reality and sensibility as Jeanette is a friend of Barney’s wife. Simon leaving this for the final moments of the play seems justified, as it allows Barney to realize that the one very last red hot lover he is looking for may, in fact, be his own wife. Porcelli takes this character into her own hands and serves Barney with a plate of reality with a side of depression, a mix that wouldn’t get the loneliest into bed. Jeanette could be played as compact and murky, but Porcelli fills the room with relatable vulnerability leaving us with excitement that Barney will be able to make the right choice because of her.
Neil Simon’s characters are always interesting to examine. You may laugh (or cry) at times based on the absurdity, but you soon come to realize that there is a little bit of each character in ourselves. I, too, like Barney, will always be “looking for something beautiful, something different” in life. As Jeanette exclaims and we can all agree, “Aren’t we all!” Woolley and his leading ladies deliver as they give us all of that…something beautiful, something different…and everything in between.
If you are looking for that something different and something beautiful with intriguing and comical direction by Joe Eriole, get over to Clove Creek Dinner Theater and indulge yourself in this Neil Simon comedy as well as some delicious food. It may be hard to find a lover in the middle of New York City, but it’s not hard to find a great piece of theater right in the heart of Fishkill, NY. Last of the Red Hot Lovers by Neil Simon runs through February 24, 2019. Tickets at www.CloveCreekDinnerTheater.com
Louisa Vilardi is a writer and theater director who lives in New York with her husband and two sons. Her writing has been featured in The Huffington Post, Today Parenting Team, and Scary Mommy. More at www.LouisaVilardi.com