‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’ sparks laughter at Ridgefield Theater Barn
Ridgefield Theater Barn, Ridgefield: “Hair” with its free-love movement opened on Broadway in 1968, when the sexual revolution was already in full swing. Neil Simon’s hilarious “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” opened in 1969, so it’s easy to see why Simon put his pen to sexual behavior and traditional mores. What he ended up with is a riotous comedy that the Ridgefield Theater Barn packed the house with on opening night.
Considering Michael Ferrara’s superb direction and a completely talented cast with no weak link, this production should continue to pack the house for the entire run. It all starts with Barney Cashman, owner of a fish restaurant, who is 47 years old and has been thinking about his mortality. He just wants to have a guilt-free affair before he dies. This is in spite of the fact that he has been married for 27 years to his high school sweetheart and loves his wife.
Nonetheless, he invites a customer, Elaine, to meet him for some afternoon delight. He sets up his date at his mother’s immaculate apartment in New York’s East Thirties. He just needs to be sure that they vacate by 5 p.m. when mom returns.
Elaine is married, but has been around the block with men a few times and she is eager for some action. She comes on strong, but for Barney this is a first attempt at cheating. He’s so awkward that everything that could go wrong goes wrong. Elaine leaves in a huff.
Barney is nothing if not persistent. He tries again, this time with Bobbie, a young woman he meets in the park. He soon discovers that she is certifiably crazy. The only thing he experiences this time is getting high on pot.
Jeanette is his last hope. She’s a good friend, but when she arrives, it’s with a lot of baggage. This is when Neil Simon is at his best. Jeanette starts questioning “guilt free sex.” She wonders if anyone ever cares about hurting people.
Considering the divorce rate based on infidelity in this country continues to climb, Simon’s play seems almost contemporary let alone ageless. The three act play is hardly dated when some characters reflect the current “anything goes” attitude toward extramarital sex.
What really works like a charm for this production is the cast. For the first five minutes of this three act comedy, Duane Lanham as Barney pretty much does perfect pantomime. His timing is bull’s eye quality and his facial expressions are spot on. The first time he enters his mom’s small apartment, he tosses his hat onto the hat rack and misses by a long shot. It’s a funny action that reoccurs and gets funnier each time until he earns spontaneous applause for a successful final attempt. Lanham’s skill and charm work as a magnetic field drawing the audience’s rapt attention and endearing him to theatergoers as he innocently circumvents a touchy subject.
Paulette Layton has painted Elaine as one tough cookie. Layton is such a natural that it’s easy to forget that she is acting. She lassoes the audience from her dynamic entrance and doesn’t let go until she’s out the door. Kate Patton as Bobbi is a breath of fresh air as the young, mentally unbalanced woman who manages to scare Barney even as Patton continually delights the audience with her wild abandon. So too, Linda Seay manages to create such a deeply depressed Jeanette that the audience can’t help but laugh at her over the top concerns.
Nick Kaye’s set is appropriately that of an older woman Joanne Gorenstein’s scenic design works well, as do the sound and light designs by Erik Tonner and Conor Hankla, respectively. Gina Tonner’s costumes are character appropriate.
Bravo to the director, cast and crew for a really fun-filled, laugh out loud production. Bring or buy a snack; sit back and enjoy cabaret-style seating. It plays through Sept. 28. Box office: 203- 431- 9850.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.