“The Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” by Neil Simon and directed by Georgia Mallory Guy, is a comedic play that follows the attempts of Barney Cashman (played by Festival 56 veteran Matthew C. Scott), caught up in the feeling of free love of the 1960s, to engage in a one-time tryst from his marriage of 23 years. Through the course of the play, we, the audience, see a wonderful range of emotions brought to life through three different meetings arranged by Barney, in which he ultimately fails his original goal because he is too decent of a human being to actually go through with having an affair. The script wonderfully binds these three different meetings by subtly including lines and actions that either mirror those of a prior lady, or foreshadow those yet to come, as well as presenting a wonderful dichotomy from beginning to end.
Guy, who has an MFA in acting, chose to approach the role of directing with an interest in seeing what the actors would bring to the table. In this way, what we get to see as a final product is truly a collaboration between those on- an off-stage. It gave all involved a chance mold their roles creating, perhaps, deeper characters who are real.
Scott Cashman, a wonderfully talented actor whose knowledge of comedic timing and excellent command of facial expressions really elevated this script to a whole new level, gave a stellar performance. Although he never leaves the stage, the energy he brings crescendos, in true Neil Simon fashion, to a maximum at the end of the second act. None the less, he was able to deliver.
The women that Cashman meets, Elaine (played by Festival 56 Veteran Tayloir Pace), Bobbi (played by first-time 56er Kim McClay), and Jeanette (played by first-time 56er Candice Dickenson), while only appearing in one scene each, are truly the driving force in each scene. As with Scott, these three actresses played their roles incredibly, pushing above and beyond the script.
Although Cashman is present for the entire show, the ladies are the ones who really set the timbre of each vastly different scene. Ranging from seductive man-eater Elaine to delusional high-on-life Bobbi to extremely depressed middle-aged Jeanette, we are confronted not with whimsical hilarity, but rather with a darker humor that speaks to us because of the truth it presents — that we may even be able to identify with personally or through people we know.
Upon entering the theater, we are musically and visually transported back to the ‘60s. The set, an incredibly detailed and furnished apartment, draws us into, and prepares us for, the world we are about to observe. While there were some technical difficulties with a few of the lights, I have no doubt that is merely an opening night blooper that will be taken care of for future performances.
While I would not recommend this play for young children because of the use of some mild language and content on adult themes, this really is a show that can be enjoyed by the whole family, and I highly recommend seeing it. Future shows are on Nov. 27, 29 and 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Grace Performing Arts Center on Princeton’s South Main Street.
Aaron Kaufmann of Tiskilwa, who holds a bachelor of arts in music education and a minor in theater, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.