'Lovers' remains relevant - and funny - at ART

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 10:01 p.m.
Neil Simon's comedy "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers" fills The Acrosstown Repertory Theatre with the sights and sounds of the '60s while the audience fills the air with laughter. The play, featuring infidelity, pot smoking and free love, is a '60s period piece that still seems relevant in 2006.
One of Simon's earlier comedies, "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers" opened on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neil Theater in 1969. Simon went on to write 30-plus years of classics, including "Biloxi Blues" and "Lost In Yonkers."
"The Last of the Red Hot Lovers" revolves around 47-year-old Barney Cashman, who has a "safe" life as the owner of a New York City seafood restaurant. He has been happily married for 23 years but somehow feels the need to step over to the wild side and experience the sexual revolution before it passes by.
The play, in three acts, reveals Barney's attempts to seduce three different, wildly unsuitable candidates on three different afternoons in his own mother's Manhattan apartment. This is Neil Simon at his best, with zany one-liners that capture the craziness of the hippie generation and keep you laughing until the end.
At the Acrosstown, Robert H. Brown provides solid direction with a wonderful ensemble cast. Charles C. Mathis IV, in the role of Barney, so perfectly fits the middle-age stereotype and rides the role for all it's worth, replete with a wide range of emotions. Kara Winslow, Courtney Wilkins and Susan Christophy are just right as the three would-be lovers.
Winslow, in the role of Elaine, the debonair, experienced lover, is Barney's first unsuccessful rendezvous. She has a wonderful dry wit and a hair-toss that tells everything about her character without saying a word. Wilkins as Bobbi, the free-spirited, unemployed young actress, is hilarious as she gets Barney to try her "medicinal" marijuana.
Theater veteran Christophy adds the finishing touch as Jeanette, best friend of Barney's wife, who had tried to seduce him a few days earlier in his own kitchen. She suffers from "melancholia" and can only experience 8.2 percent happiness with her condition.
Christophy plays Jeanette with restraint, calculating every subtle nuance until her character explodes with the naked truth. It is through Jeanette's tryst with Barney that Simon tries to help us make sense of this crazy world in which they live.
Although a small play, and sometimes accused of being dated, "Lovers" is perfect for this company and reminds one of how great community theater can be with the melding of the right cast with the right play in the right space.
Running through Feb. 18, "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers" is worth the fling.
Sherwin Mackintosh spent 17 years as a musical director and producer in New York City. He is currently the director of the Performing Arts Center at the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.

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