LAKE GEORGE - A visit to the Lake Theatre in Lake George is a reminder of the innocence that existed when the theater was first formed as the Lake George Dinner Theater in 1968.
Despite the sexual revolution that was taking place at the time, there were many who did not participate in the revolution and thus did not understand the new morality that was changing society.
“The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” was, in 1969, Neil Simon’s way of expressing how funny it can be when a basically moral person tries to be immoral.
“The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” is a comedy about Barney, a 47-year old married man who is intent on having an extra-marital affair. In three scenes it shows how this nice guy who has been married to his high school sweetheart for over 20 years, tries to have a tryst with three uniquely different women. It’s almost quaint to note that this fish-out-of-water play never seems tawdry, salacious or even sexual.
While Barney is inept and naive, two of his three potential conquests certainly are not. The first, Elaine, is matter-of-fact to the point of being hard. She’s a serial cheater and wants a relationship that is physical and non-emotional. She couldn’t be more removed from Barney’s mindset.
This segment is classic joke-filled Neil Simon comedy with the humor coming from the wisecrack banter of Elaine as she points out the comical aspects of Barney’s almost farcical attempt to make the moment romantic - even though it takes place at 3 p.m. in his mother’s apartment, in which they have to whisper, and vacate by 5.
The second piece is almost a character study of a young woman who is more than border-line psychotic. Bobbi is an aspiring actress who lives in a fantasy world, filled with crazy people - who might not be fictional. Here the humor comes from Barney realizing that he’s in over-his-head and that Bobbi is not only crazy, she might be unintentionally dangerous.
The final segment is more serious as Jeanette is a neighbor and friend of Barney’s wife. She is unhappy in her marriage, depressed and feeling guilty about being with Barney. It is the most insightful of the three and the least funny.
The acting is terrific. Lake Theatre has cast one person to play all three women and thanks to the extraordinary talents of Karen Sternberg the concept works. Sternberg is able to transform herself as she creates three totally different characters. Not only is each one funny but they also are identifiable human beings who have their own problems. The actor is wonderful at capturing Simon’s knack of making sad people seem funny without diminishing their personal issues.
Jarel Davidow returns to Lake Theatre for his third season and is an ideal foil for the females. He is also very funny in his own right. He creates a decent man, who is inept at being a cad. Indeed, Barney is so likeable you root for him to fail in his mission of cheating on his wife.
Brenny Rabine offers solid direction that nurses all the humor from an erratic text that could, in lesser hands, seem dangerously out-of-date in performance. She guides her actors to find both the comic sensibilities of the situation and the honesty that exists within their characters. This helps in muting the occasional preachiness that Simon includes in some windy speeches.
“The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” is the kind of material that plays well after a comfortable meal. The choices for that meal are medallions of beef, salmon, chicken, and vegetarian pasta. Though served in an impersonal banquet style fashion, the food is of good quality. The beef and chicken sampled at our table of eight pleased those who ordered them. I can speak well of the salmon which was moist, flavorful and abundant. The dinners come with excellent sides, a small salad, and a cheesecake dessert with coffee or tea.
“The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” is not Neil Simon’s greatest play, but it does show the playwright’s comic gifts and his insights to human behavior. It’s worth seeing.
“The Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” at Lake Theatre in the Holiday Inn, Lake George. Matinee and evening performances continue through September 2. For reservations and schedule information call 518-668-5762 ext. 411.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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