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A CurtainUp Review
The Last of the Red Hot Lovers
One victim according to playwright Neil Simon was Barney Cashman, fish restaurant owner and happily married denizen of Manhattan, the nebbishy hero of the 1969 comedy currently on stage at the nicely remodeled Schoolhouse Theatre in Croton Falls, New York. Like most productions there it is a sharply defined effort under the direction of Pamela Moller Kareman.
Barney is determined to “score” and plans to use his mother’s East 37th Street apartment as the spot of his assignation. (She’s away in the afternoons working as a volunteer at Mount Sinai Hospital.) Barney’s clumsy attempts at seduction prove to be as calamitous as his choices of illicit partners.
Like many of Simon’s plays, Lovers is neatly divided into three short acts. Each isin a sense a separate playlet of its own.
In the first act Barney is joined in his playpen by Elaine Navazio (Anette Michelle Sanders) a regular customer at his restaurant, an ardent chain smoker and someone who is apparently as horny as Barney envisions himself to be. Elaine’s no-nonsense, lets-get-down-to-business approach throws off Barney’s libido and he finds himself stalling until time runs out. With a cough that sounds worse than a walrus in heat (the comparison is intended) one wonders if Elaine’s lungs would have survived sex.
Next on list is Bobbi Michele (Lauren Carrie Lewis) a vivacious young actress/singer with all the attributes and apparel of an escapee of the Haight-Asbury scene. Saddled with a lesbian roommate who is her vocal coach as well as a Nazi, and consumed with paranoid delusion that some mysterious man has kidnapped her dog, Bobbi is bananas. Barney quickly realizes bedding her would probably require a butterfly net and a couple of nurses to hold her down.
The playwright saves Barney’s worst humiliation for last. After two acts of his trademarked amusing one-liners, he switches gears and goes “message.” Enter Jeanette Fisher (Helen Greenberg), a good friend of Barney’s wife Thelma, and a dour, drear of a woman wearing what looks like a Depression era dress that has been shrunk in the wash for years. At first you think, this is going to be a trick and she’s going to rip off those rags and emerge a real beauty but no such luck. Not only is she as unattractive as sin, its sin she’s come to preach about, or at least decency. Not exactly what Barney has in mind.
Though one has to wonder just how desperate he is, to not notice how unattractive and uninterested in a dalliance Jeanette is. This turn to morality, however blithely presented, deadens the air of hilarity that has been built and the play ends on a feel good note if not a belly laugh.
Director Kareman has coaxed sprightly performances from her cast. Gristaldi, who was impressive as a morally corrupt South African in the theater’s last production, Ten Unknowns, is quite funny, even if he doesn’t look especially fired up in the lower regions. The ladies all excel in nailing their particular persona. From hot to trot (Elaine), crazy as a loon (Bobbi), and as stimulating as a mouth wash (Jeanette), they surely made the men in the audience think twice about any wayward ideas of their own.
The evocatively middle-class set by Jason Boden, handsome and nicely detailed, was illuminated by the sunny lighting design of David Pentz and Kimberly Matela’s costumes were as colorful as the characters who wore them.