Last of the Red Hot Lovers
Phil Johnson (Barney) and Sandy Campbell (Jeanette) in "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers." (Photo by Aaron Rumley).

Last of the Red Hot Lovers

A nice guy joins the sexual revolution, Neil Simon-style.

Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Christopher Williams
North Coast Repertory Theatre, San Diego
September 6-October 8, 2017
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A middle-age man, who runs a seafood restaurant and drives a Buick in the Age of Aquarius, clumsily tries to join the sexual revolution in “Last of the Red Hot Lovers.”

Barney Cashman (Phil Johnson, in a boffo performance) is the quintessential nice guy bored with his marriage and predictable existence. Worried that this may be all life holds, he hankers for an affair and sets out to seduce three women. A cascading series of comic errors follows.

First up is Elaine (Katie Karel), a sultry restaurant regular who regularly strays from her marriage for encounters without emotional baggage. Barney, navigating without a map, endlessly tries to steer her into soulful conversations with the goal of having a meaningful relationship. Elaine responds by draining a bottle of scotch and heading for the door.

Next is Bobbi (Noelle Marison), a would-be actress from California who Barney met on a park bench. She’s vibrant and airy and, unfortunately, dangerously unbalanced. Marison gives a mesmerizing performance showing versatility not only in her precisely timed delivery but also in what her rubber-band body is capable of as she fluidly executes dance stretches, yoga poses, the splits and other mind-boggling moves, none of which lead her into Barney’s arms.

This brings us to Jeanette (Sandy Campbell), his best friend’s wife whose interest in Barney is fueled not by lust but anger against her husband who recently confessed his unfaithfulness. To say Jeanette is conflicted about being alone with Barney is an understatement. She walks in with shoulders hunched up to her ears and tightly clutching a structured purse in front of her like a chastity belt. Barney would have an easier time wrestling a handbag away from the Queen of England.

All three of these failed encounters take place in his mother’s empty-in-the-afternoon, doily-draped apartment with the classic New York City outside view of a brick wall, courtesy of set designer Marty Burnett. Prop designer Andrea Gutierrez gives us faded baby-photos-on-the-wall, matching sofa pillows, and kitchen table chotchkies that change with the seasons. Nice touches!

Costume designer Elisa Benzoni conveys Barney’s play-it-safe-in-life style with baggy suits and strangling neckties; swinger Elaine in a tight sweater and even tighter pedal pushers; love child Bobbi in a citrus-colored dress mini dress with a dangerously high hemline; and a matchy-matchy look for Jeanette featuring bullet-proof polyester dress, pillbox hat, and that protective purse. Era-worthy hair and wig design by Peter Herman.

Some Neil Simon plays have aged better than others: “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” falls in the latter category with a handful of racist jokes, and a lengthy marijuana-smoking scene that harkens to “Reefer Madness.”

by Lynne Friedmann

San Diego ,

Lynne Friedmann, based in San Diego, is an award-winning, freelance writer of news, feature articles, and blogs on science, travel, and the arts. Her decades-long passion for theater was sparked as a teen when the Inner City Cultural Center commandeered classroom curricula by bringing classic plays to urban high schools in Los Angeles.