Here's the question: Is it possible to slip a lady into a borrowed apartment for some casual, no-strings attached afternoon delight ... but still be a nice guy about it?
Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Neil Simon's take on the question, was written at the tail end of the 1960s, a time when free love and sexual revolution seemed ready to upend the social order.
It's a three-act play that tells the tale of restaurant owner Barney Cashman (Mark Gorman), a middle-aged married man who decides to break the rules, for once in his life, and try his hand at scoring a little honey on the side.
It is almost painful to watch Cashman try to navigate his way to an act that less morally encumbered men consummate with ease.
The women with whom he attempts to do this are an interesting mix of personality types. The first, Elaine (vivaciously played by Kristen Kos), would be a sure thing for just about any other suitor, but Cashman manages to botch the job. He wants it to be the stuff of young romance in the springtime, all poetry and heartfelt tales. She wants him to pour her another scotch and kiss her harder, damn it.
It probably should be mentioned that he brings these ladies to his elderly mother's apartment during the hours when she is volunteering at the hospital.
His second and third attempts at an extramarital tryst are with an aspiring actress (Kathleen O'Shaughnessy) who is nuttier than a fruitcake, and his wife's best friend (Linda Eisen).
Red Hot Lovers is not without flaws, but it is good, solid entertainment nonetheless. Actually, it's worth the price of admission just to hear an exasperated Elaine scream "Flaming Florentine flounder, Holy Christ!" as Barney rambles on about his seafood restaurant after she practically throws herself at him.
Of the three acts, the first seemed the least polished. When Kristin Kos was on her game, she was absolutely amazing, but there also seemed to be a few moments when she was struggling with her lines. Kathleen O'Shaughnessy was a delight as Bobbi, the crazy chanteuse, and Linda Eisen was pitch-perfect as the rigid, pathologically moral Jeannette.
In less capable hands, this story runs the risk of being decidedly one-sided, all about Barney and his thwarted hopes for happy humping. With this presentation, however, the disappointment of the ladies in Barney is kept equally in view. Chalk it up to excellent staging technique and fine acting.
The late '60s ethos of the play gives it kind of a dated feel in spots, but the heart of the story doesn't really age, because the experience of failing to connect is universal to the human experience. We've all stumbled over our own words and intentions in slapstick fashion at some point.
Who doesn't want to kick the rules to the curb, without consequence, every now and then?