By Holly Glen Gearhart
Neil Simon’s “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” is playing at Wagner Theatre through March 17, and it is well performed by Sky Performing Arts, with Eric Lewis directing.
It is at once an agonizing and hilarious drama about a man trying to join the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
The play opens with Barney Cashman, played by Michael G. McFadden, nervously setting up his mother’s apartment for his first assignation. His paranoia is wince-makingly funny as he enters the apartment, careful to place his wet overshoes on newspaper, and pulls the curtains on the window—crawling on the floor so no one sees him—before he turns on the lights.
Barney makes a call to establish an alibi, but he doesn’t need it for long–Barney’s mother is out of the apartment until 5 p.m. and that sets the deadline for his planned encounter– he has from 3 to 5 p.m. to join the sexual revolution.
Enter Elaine Navazio, played by Amber Eve Pfeiffer. Navazio is a world-weary veteran of affairs. The scene is fraught with non-starts, endless conversions about life, the world, and Elaine’s desperate need of a cigarette. Barney’s deadline passes with no debauchery having transpired beyond a few drinks.
The curtain falls as Barney straightens up his mother’s apartment, careful not to leave evidence that he was there.
The exchange is brilliant in that the two manage to quickly structure a quasi-marriage between them when they want exactly the opposite, an afternoon of fun.
Barney’s next would-be partner scandalizes even him.
Bobbi Michelle, played by Chrissy Kayatta, arrives. Barney is shocked at every turn with Bobbi; her stories of men with whom she has lived, and things she did or did not do to please benefactors.
McFadden really comes alive in this part. His facial expressions match his body language, filled with tension, shock and – after Bobbi and Barney share a joint—his first high. The laughs here are rapid fire; Kayatta is so convincing as the psycho hippie chick that her presence on stage made me look over my shoulder fearing the presence of the Feds!
Barney’s last attempt to enter the hip world of sexual expression is met with a woman as uptight as I can imagine. Jeanette Fisher enters the apartment with her pocketbook clutched to her chest as some kind of protection. It turns out that Jeanette, played by Julie Jennings, is a friend of both he and his wife. The conversation is fraught, with Jeanette fearing being caught by his wife or other friends they have in common. Barney tries to reassure her over and over as the characters circle the stage in animated frustration.
I won’t give away more than that, but this is a delightful and insightful play, and I will tell you that the cast is among the best I have seen.
Pfeiffer played the part of the world-weary Elaine so well that I first thought she needed to speak louder and clearer, only to find I was wrong and Pfeiffer’s performance was dead-on—there was no question that Elaine was tired of the world.
Jennings had me wincing in my seat because she appeared so fraught with worry that I nearly called out to her to leave. McFadden carried the show, easily flowing through his encounters with nuances that fit each situation spot-on.
This is a play you should run out and see. Sky Performing Arts, the actors and their stage hands, are among the best and deserve your support.
For showtimes and tickets, visit http://skyperformingarts.com/.