There’s a cartoon which shows a middle-aged woman, clad in a heavy black suit and sensible shoes, holding a hefty briefcase, and standing at the side of a pool. All around her are men, swimming, sunning, enjoying drinks at the bar.
“So many men,” she sighs. “So little time.”
Barney Cashman, the heart of Neil Simon’s hit comedy, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, now on stage at Upper Canada Playhouse, is the male equivalent of that cartoon character.
“So many women. So little time.”
Last of the Red Hot Lovers, directed by Jesse Collins, is set in the late swinging 60s, very early 70s.
Veteran actor Brian Young portrays a memorable and deeply sympathetic Barney in this Orillia Opera House and Upper Canada Playhouse co-production of Neil Simon’s 1969 Broadway play.
In his understated button down blue suit, sporting a proper fedora and galoshes, Young plays a character who is no one’s idea of a liberated man. And he has become painfully aware of that.
Barney’s been stolidly married for 23 years, a parent, the hard-working owner of a fish restaurant he inherited from his father: unquestionably, this is a man who is a ‘pillar of the community’.
And the word most people use to describe him is “nice.”
“I don’t smoke. I don’t gamble. Life has not only been very kind to me, it’s gone out of its way to ignore me,” as Barney despairingly puts it.
Now, in a case of sheer comic bravado, Barney is going to “have an affair.” He’s going to make up for lost time.
The laughter and enjoyment of this play rests on Barney’s determined efforts to become a swinging man about town.
In Neil Simon’s world, things do not go well.
Barney chooses his elderly grandmother’s thin-walled apartment for his assignations. He lugs scotch (and tissue wrapped glasses from Bloomingdale’s) in his briefcase because he fears to make a mess. He compulsively washes his hands at every opportunity to ensure there is no ‘fishy’ smell.
One further catch?
Barney Cashman, would-be Lothario, has absolutely no idea how to have “an affair.”
Neil Simon’s hilarious script allows the audience to share (and, in many ways, understand) Barney’s desperate quest to taste the exciting life he supposes has been passing him by.
Three unique women will be part of his “impossible dream.”
Elaine from the Bronx chain smokes. She drinks. She is married, yes, but only on her own terms.
In Viviana Zarrillo’s hands, Elaine is hilariously bold, brash, and fiercely independent. She overwhelms Barney, who has never met a female like this in his life. To his timid request to “get to know her” before they do anything, Elaine is blunt. “I can’t stand a wistful 45 year old man.”
Zarrillo has some of the biggest laugh out loud lines of the play, and she delivers them with relish.
Woman Two, the aspiring flower child, would-be actress and (essentially) full time “psycho”’ Bobbi (played with wonderful spacey abandon by Maria Dinn) brings Barney smack up against the swinging part of the 60s …and he’s definitely not ready.
Lecherous cabbies, dognappers and mysterious, evil married men populate Bobbi’s world. To a nearly cowering Barney she cheerily says, “You’re worried some jealous nut is going to burst in here and blow our brains out! Wouldn’t that be a kick!”
Not for Barney.
Enter Woman Three: Jeanette.
In the fond belief that a woman he actually knows, one who is even his own age, will inevitably create the perfect romantic encounter, Barney invites the wife of an old friend to his love nest.
To say that Jeanette is “closed in” and emotionally shut down is to understate the case.
Alison Lawrence’s Jeanette clutches her pocket book to her chest the way a drowning man clutches a life preserver.
A light-hearted fling is the last thing on Jeanette’s mind, something she makes painfully clear to a stunned Barney.
Jeanette’s gray, gray world is full of liars and cheats: “Do you know what my percentage of happiness is, Barney? 8.2 per cent.” No one in this world is any good.
And yet, as they ‘debate’ life, to his considerable surprise, and the audience’s considerable amusement, Barney suddenly finds himself discovering insights and feelings he never realized he had.
“I love living!” he finally exclaims in amazement and delight.
Audiences can look forward to falling in love with Barney Cashman, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, now playing at Upper Canada Playhouse until August 28. For tickets and information contact the Playhouse at 613-543-3713.