Comedy Reigns in Clio Cast & Crew’s Neil Simon “Last of the Red Hot Lovers”

Reviewed by Helen S. Bas

A blast from the past greeted patrons of Clio Cast & Crew Friday night: pop songs from the early 1970s. As well as being eminently hummable for this, ahem, old enough reviewer, they were a fitting preamble for the troupe’s production of Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers.

The comedy first opened on Broadway in 1969 and continued through most of 1971. It has seen loads of revivals since, including many worthwhile productions on community theater stages. CC & C’s current gig is well worth seeing, with its dose of typical Simon hilarity paired with local talent.

The play takes place around 1970, smack in the middle of the sexual revolution. Barney Cashman (played by Ken Thorp) is a straight-laced, buttoned-up, blue-suit-and-Buick guy who has been happily married to Thelma for 23 years. But he can’t help feeling he’s missing out on something.

So he sets out to have a fling, hoping to keep life from passing him by. He sets up his mother’s New York studio apartment with finicky care, bringing Scotch and his own glasses so she won’t suspect he’s used hers. The never-present mother is volunteering at the hospital during Barney’s attempted trysts, but her presence is so real she might as well be there.

The three ill-fated attempts at adultery take place months apart, and the women Barney chooses couldn’t be more dissimilar. Elaine (Laura Horton) is a jaded patron at his fish restaurant. While she’s not a professional, she’s had her share of affairs and is as eager to begin as Barney is shy about it. They argue about everything, including Elaine’s insistence that only a cigarette will cure her coughing fit. They part, she comes back; ultimately not a thing happens.

Cut to next time. Barney is still in his blue suit, but feels a little more confident. He brings not only Scotch, but vodka, and adds an assortment of cigarettes. This time, his attempted seducee is Bobbi Michele (Dawn Sabourin), a young hippie type he met in the park. She thinks she’s there to repay twenty dollars she borrowed; he’s not at all interested in the money.

Bobbi is a neurotic, pot-smoking, charming but paranoid nutwhack. She has Barney completely off kilter, but eventually he loosens up. Still no affair, though. Cut to the third act.

Thinking the third time’s the charm, Barney arrives at Mom’s apartment in – gasp! – a brown sports jacket, and is much more cavalier this time. His “date” is Thelma’s friend Jeanette (Kim Saeedy), who is married to Barney’s friend Mel. The guilt is so thick you could cut it with a knife – or the letter opener, which Jeanette brandishes on more than one occasion.

The three acts portray women as different as night and day. Neil Simon has created a gargantuan task for them, and for Barney, who must adjust his demeanor for each. Bored, impatient Elaine is pushy and brassily uninhibited. Jeanette is depressed to the point of feeling that life isn’t worth it, scuttling around clutching her handbag like a security blanket.

Despite it all, though, Horton and Saeedy, with Thorp, pull laughs from the audience. It’s hard to make such personalities funny, but each does an able job.

But wait, there’s more. Simon has written an exceedingly unbalanced play, with the best part going to Sabourin in the middle act, as Bobbi Michele. She is, simply, outstandingly hilarious. The part is roll-on-the-floor cackling funny, and Sabourin plays it to the hilt. It’s one long, snorting laugh from beginning to end.

The fact is that the whole troupe did a fantastic job. It’s kind of unfortunate that Sabourin’s Bobbi may overshadow, with its hilarity, what were excellent performances by the others. Nevertheless, the play as a whole was well acted by an obviously talented troupe. Go see it and have a night full of laughs.

Kudos to the whole troupe and to directors Cindy Hubbard and Jody Henderson for a wonderful theater experience in CC & C’s comfortable Theater 57. And congratulations to CC & C on their 35th season this year.

Last of the Red Hot Lovers continues tonight and March 30 and 31 at 7:30 p.m., and March 25 and April 1 at 2 pm., at Theater 57, 2220 W. Vienna Rd., Clio. For more information, call 810-687-2588 or visit http://www.cliocastandcrew.com.

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