“Life has gone out of its way to ignore me,” says sad-sack Barney Cashman in Central Alberta Theatre’s engaging production of Last of the Red Hot Lovers.
Saddled with three kids, a devoted but “not vivacious” wife named Thelma, and a fish restaurant, Barney thinks a spot of adultery might jolt his average life out of the doldrums.
Of course, Barney, played by Curtis Closson, gets more than he bargained for in this well-done version of Neil Simon’s classic 1969 comedy, which opened Thursday at the Nickle Studio, upstairs at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre.
And we’re not talking about sex here.
The first woman who Barney tries to get into the sack — or rather onto the couch at his mom’s house while his mother’s away volunteering — is Elaine Navazio, hilariously played by Nicole Orr.
Elaine, a brassy blonde who’s a repeat customer at Barney’s seafood restaurant, has clearly been around the block a few times. When Barney delays cutting to the chase and instead tries to engage Elaine in conversation, she smells his inexperience (as well as the lingering odour of oysters on his hands) and her eye rolling begins.
Barney is soon overpowered by Elaine’s cynical personality — and the same can be said for Closson, who initially comes close to being steamrollered by Orr’s strong performance.
Fortunately, Closson becomes surer of his lines as the play progresses, and his Barney becomes more reactive and less emotionally flat.
By the second act, the comedy directed by Albertus Koett really picks up steam. And much credit goes to Sarah Hemphill’s brilliant portrayal of Bobbi Michele, the second woman Barney tries to have an affair with at his mother’s house.
Bobbi is an unemployed nightclub singer who’s prone to bursting into song and telling paranoid stories about being stalked and having her lhasa apso dog-napped by a mysterious Mr. H.
Hemphill’s subtle body language and superb comic timing makes her outlandish Bobbi completely believable. And Closson’s bewildered reactions to this bizarreness turn Barney into a more dimensional character.
A scene in which Bobbi lights up a joint and convinces the conservative restaurateur to inhale marijuana smoke is a highlight.
“I don’t feel my tongue,” says a woozy Barney, who soon comes to the panicky realization that Bobbi — who reportedly sleeps between leather sheets with a “Nazi” vocal coach — might actually be more crazy than kooky.
The problem with Barney’s third female visitor, Jeanette Fisher, is of a less volatile and more morose nature.
Jeanette, who’s a friend of Barney’s wife, Thelma, turns off her come-hither charm the minute she crosses the threshold of Barney’s mom’s place. She begins asking such romance-killing questions as, “You don’t think there are worse things than death?” and “What gives you the strength to go on?”
Barney spends what should be his whoopee time trying to talk Jeanette (who’s well played by Rachelle McComb) out of her disappointment in the human race, starting with her husband, Mel.
The thing that’s made Neil Simon’s sexual revolution comedy stand up over the past four decades is the playwright’s sharp insight into the human condition. Barney’s sense of the years passing him by is relatable to many people, and so is Jeanette’s disappointment in where life has taken her.
While most of the witty dialogue in Last of the Red Hot Lovers is geared to providing audience members with a good laugh, Simon also manages to squeeze some poignancy into this play before it’s over.
Both are great reasons to catch this entertaining CAT production before it winds up on April 27.