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Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Neil Simon at His Most Misogynistic

Also see Bob's review of Moonlight and Magnolias

Bev Sheehan, Madeline Orton, Jacqueline Holloway and Lenny Bart
An excellent, maybe too excellent, cast and an incisive, maybe too incisive, female director lay bare the misogynistic attitude which permeates every aspect of Neil Simon's Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Surely, the fine quartet of actors produce more than a few laughs. However, the laughter curdles because, during the forty years since this play was a 700-performance Broadway success, we have become sensitized to the injuries caused by hostile, derisive depictions of women.

The setting is a Manhattan apartment in the East Thirties on three late afternoons, respectively, in December, August and September. Here, to his mother's apartment, the bored and unfulfilled, socially inept Barney Cashman, 47 years old, faithfully married for 23 years, serially brings three women for sexual liaisons. Barney is the proprietor of a fish restaurant, and, like Mr. Snow, he cannot seem to lose the smell of fish.

First up and hot to trot is Elaine Navazio (she's Polish; it's her husband who's Italian). Barney had picked Elaine up while she was eating in his restaurant. She is sweet to Barney and accepting of his social ineptitude, and all she wants is an uncomplicated roll in the hay. Barney lays out all his frustrations to Elaine, ultimately rejecting her, saying, "I only wanted one afternoon, but special, not sordid." These words, as played and directed here, are so unwarranted and hurtful that Barney comes off as an unfeeling jerk who deserves a good shellacking. Elaine's riposte, "that's why you wanted to get laid ... If I (had) craved corned beef and cabbage, I'd be in some big Irishman's apartment having the time of my life," can't erase our bad feelings toward Barney.

Barney is better dressed and better prepared for his next liaison, having learned some lessons from Elaine. The second femme de jour is Bobbi Michelle, whom Barney had met in the park where he loaned her $20 so she could hire an accompanist for an audition. Bobbi is a self-centered, psychotic airhead (pothead, too) given to such observations as, "I was fabulous at my audition ... men always paw me ... make indecent phone calls." She has come to give herself to Barney in lieu of returning the borrowed $20 which she doesn't have to repay. Bobbi is suicidal, and angrily states, "I'll write a book about all the men that I met and I'll leave no one out." Well, at least Bobbi and Barney do get to smoke some pot.

Is it September yet? (yes it is.) So it's time for a run at Jeanette Fisher. The best friend of Barney's wife, Jeanette, is also the wife of Barney's best friend. She is a ninny, who is guilt-ridden over having succumbed to even coming to the apartment. Thus, Barney's attempt to make love to Jeanette is a lost cause. They do prattle on in a silly manner about whether people are capable of goodness and decency. And it is sounding like ideas (beyond those about misogyny) have changed in the last 40 years dulling any edge that Last of the Red Hot Lovers may once have had.

Jacqueline Holloway (Elaine Navazio) is charming and appealing, landing all her comedy lines right on target. Madeline Orton (Bobbi Michele) conveys all of the ditzy comic madness that is Bobbi. Bev Sheehan (on sojourn from her own What Exit? comedy theatre) does addled particularly well and that is just what she must play in order to capture Jeanette.

Watching Lenny Bart's (Barney Cashman) very human, very (but not overly) detailed performance is a particular pleasure. However, when James Coco created this role on Broadway, Coco delivered a way over the top performance trading verisimilitude for laughter. Such an approach might well be more effective given the obvious inadequacies laid bare by the more insightful approach taken here.

Lauren Moran Mills has directed with a sure hand, fully illuminating the play and picking up all its humor along the way. Her clear-eyed, incisive direction does throw into relief aspects of the play that are less than flattering. Jonathan Wentz's set successfully reproduces the details of a Manhattan apartment.

Last of the Red Hot Lovers continues performances (Friday and Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 3 pm) through November 28, 2010, at the Women's Theatre Company at the Parsippany Arts Center, 1130 Knoll Road, Lake Hiawatha. Box Office: 973-316-3033 / online:

Last of the Red Hot Lovers by Neil Simon; directed by Lauren Moran Mills

Barney Cashman......................Lenny Bart
Elaine Navazio...........Jacqueline Holloway
Bobbi Michele....................Madeline Orton
Jeanette Fisher.....................Bev Sheehan

Photo: Alexander Justice Krajkowski

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