Theatre Burlington opens its 67th Season with Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers. It’s a promising beginning to an interesting playbill for Burlington this year. Following Simon’s light comedy, it hits hard with the four time Tony Award winner The Beauty Queen of Leenane. From there, an interesting extension to a classic, Monday After the Miracle, which looks at Helen Keller’s struggle with maturity.
Director Tom Levely and Producer Michelle Spanik have put together a solid foundation for what looks like a great promise of theatre to come in 2019/20. If Last of the Red Hot Lovers has a certain melancholy about it though, it’s not due to this production team. They’ve managed to take a piece of work which is ethically teetering, in our current culture, on a very fine precipice of misogyny and sexism and give it what I’m sure is pretty close to its last hoorah.
Main character, Barney Cashman, played by Ian Mckechnie, is determined, over the course of the year to have himself a sexual revolution. He does this by unsuccessfully luring candidates to his mother’s apartment and failing miserably on all three occasions to have an affair on his wife. You can see how this treatment of women as merely objects for sexual consumption or partners to dupe is a little problematic and over the years simply overdone, but Mckechnie adds a light touch to his character that softens our judgement and in the end, we pity him more than we judge him. This is the only way to go with this characterization and Levely supports it by never creating aggressive posturing in the blocking. Wise choices and delicate acting selections allow this 1969 character to provide entertainment in our 2019 politically correct era.
As the focal character, Mckechnie is engaging and awkwardly charming and keeps the energy flowing with his possible partners throughout the production. Each of his failed conquests has her moment to shine although in general I find the final altercation is truly the peak of the energy in the show. A little more pick me up in the opening to match this would help the pace of the production. Heather Hunter as Elaine Navazio has an excellent quirky comic delivery, Melissa Doerr a lovely casual body expression and Nikki Blain’s moralistic, fretting, emotional Jeanette Fisher filled the stage with palpable angst.
Finally, Levely wraps the production beautifully in his perfectly designed New York apt. It suggests incredible depth on a relatively small stage with exquisite detail of lighting that proposes the outside world spilling through the blinds. Set dressing precisely captures that the apt. owner is actually his mother and further more she’s a picky lady. This only adds to the hilarity of events as poor Barney tries to seal the deal without leaving any detection of disarray.
As a final detail, a smooth elegant version of Lady of Impanema plays at the beginning of each debacle. In the opening, it suggests possibility for Barney but as each scenario unfolds it simply reinforces the hilarity of his ineptitude with women and the audience laughs warmly even before we know he fails.
I suggest coming out to see Barney in what might be one of the last opportunities to see a workable version of this Neil Simon piece in our culture. Levely and his team have done a charming job but like Barney’s attempted sexual escapades these types of themes are near the end of their rode. V
LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS
2311 New Street, Burlington
Sept 27-28, 8 PM
Tickets: online at www.theatre burlington.on.ca, or at the door
Box Office: (905) 639 - 7700