|Bonnie Black, Beverley Taylor, Kate Hubbard with R. Bruce Connelly. Photo courtesy of Ivoryton Playhouse.|
By Lauren Yarger
R. Bruce Connelly, one of Connecticut theater's gems, gives Neil Simon's Last of the Red Hot Lovers at Ivoryton Playhouse a shot in the arm with some charm and comic timing, but he and a willing cast can't fully resuscitate an aging play that's rather dated.
Connelly stars as Barney Cashman, a married man of 23 years who decides to try his hand at a romantic tryst. He sneaks into his mother's place (Rachel Reynolds designs the knickknack cluttered midtown New York apartment) while she is at work, bringing with him everything he thinks he'll need to seduce the object of his desire: Elaine Navazio (Beverly J. Taylor), whom he met at his seafood restaurant. Barney brings his own glasses for drinks and refluffs pillows into their exact positions lest his mother detect their presence. He closes the curtains and talks in whispers so his mother's nosy neighbor can't hear. He also keeps smelling his fingers to make sure that the smell from shucking oysters at his restaurant hasn't lingered.
Needless to say, Elaine, looking for some quick action, doesn't find any of that sexy. When Barney finally tries some romantic moves, they are awkward at best. The encounter leaves him swearing he'll never do anything like that again, but then there wouldn't be a play . . .
Enter conquest number 2: free-spirited, much younger actress and hippie type Bobbi Michele (Katherine Ailsa Hubbard). Barney soon realizes his mistake, but before he knows it, she has him getting high on marijuana and listening to tales about her lesbian, Nazi roommate. By the time he tries again with conquest number 3, Jeanette Fisher (Bonnie Black), Barney has become pretty adept at the sneak-off-to-Mom's-apartment routine, but prudish, uptight Jeanette, who is a friend of his wife, proves another kind of challenge for Barney.
Most of the humor in Simon's 1969 hit is the type that probably was funny then, but loses something in the passage of years. We're stuck in a time warp, unable to get out of the '60s when World War II wasn't so long ago, marijuana was something new and kinky, cheating on your wife was something most men didn't do and calls were made on rotary dial phones (LisaMarie Harry designs the costumes that depict the era).
Director Maggie McGlone Jennings lets the actors drift into a slow pace, especially in the first act, that fails to give what humor their is any chance of taking off. Even the scene changes are slow. The The meeting between Connelly and Black, who does a nice job giving Jeanette some depth, is more interesting, with both actors bringing skill to the exchange, but by the time this occurs in the second act, it's too late to revive the dying play.
Connelly does what he can to keep things interesting along the way, however, and deserves a nod. His antics tickled one woman in the audience and it was just as much fun to watch her break up every time Connelly did something funny as it was to watch the play.
Last of the Red Hot Lovers plays at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., through June 24. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday at 2pm; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children and are available by calling 860-767-7318 or by visiting www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.