Review: Marco Players turn up the heat in Neil Simon's 'Last of the Red Hot Lovers'

Neil Simon's "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers" may not be a ménage a trois but does feature a stellar cast of three women pursued by one man. From left are Rachel Gallentine, Jillian Pepperall, Angella Anderson and on the couch is Sean O'Shea. The play, performed by The Marco Players, starts March 28. Cheryl Ferrara / Eagle Correspondent

CHERYL FERRARA

Neil Simon's "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers" may not be a ménage a trois but does feature a stellar cast of three women pursued by one man. From left are Rachel Gallentine, Jillian Pepperall, Angella Anderson and on the couch is Sean O'Shea. The play, performed by The Marco Players, starts March 28. Cheryl Ferrara / Eagle Correspondent

IF YOU GO

What: Neil Simon comedy about would-be lothario Barney Cashman and his three lady loves

When: 8 p.m. Wed. - Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun. through April 15

Where: 1055 N. Collier Blvd. Marco Island

Cost: $23 & $25

Information: Call 642-7270 or themarcoplayers.com

Something Else: The theater is located in the Marco Town Center Mall directly across from the Crazy Flamingo restaurant.

On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.

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— The Marco Players went back to the Swinging Sixties Wednesday, closing their season with Neil Simon comedy "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers." If poor Barney Cashman left his love nest unsatisfied, the audience didn't. They laughed all the way out the door into Marco Island's gorgeous spring night.

Simon penned "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" at the close of the decade; it opened on Broadway in December 1969 and ran for 706 performances. The play finds married, prosaic middle-aged restauranteur Barney Cashman looking to spice up his sex life outside the bonds of marriage. Longtime Simon director Gene Saks helmed the 1972 film adaptation.

This is the second Neil Simon play this season for the Marco Players, and the third in two years. "Chapter Two" opened the 2011-12 season, with "Come Blow Your Horn" starting the 2010-11 season.

"Lovers" was Simon's attempt to capture both the fraying moral politics of the sexual revolution and the explosive changes that accompanied the loosening of American society. The buttoned down 1950s had given way to the free-spirited '60s, where people talked about their feelings and discovered that a wife, kids, house, job and three weeks in Saratoga Springs didn't lead to fulfillment.

While the play's references (two puffs on a joint - back up!) and outlook on society can be a bit outdated in this age of "The Bachelor" and "Jersey Shore," the message does ring true. Like Barney Cashman, we're all just looking for someone to connect with. We're just doing it on Facebook, eHarmony or match.com.

Above all, "Lovers" exists as a sparkling, quick-witted comedy, with gentle soul Barney (an excitable, likable Sean O'Shea) trying - and failing in a trio of trysts. Sexy, swanky Elaine (a brilliant, biting Rachel Gallentine) is too disinterested. Kooky actress Bobbi Michele (a deliciously loopy Jillian Pepperall) is too crazy. And sedate Jeanette (a wonderfully uptight Angella Anderson) proves too unwilling.

Director Jerry Seiff, who has Broadway experience, gets the very most out of his crew of amateur thespians. If the play doesn't always hit Simon's giddy heights, the cast does climb the comedy hills with predictable regularity and frequent success.

O'Shea, in just his second outing with the Marco Players, breathes life into the schlumpy, nebbish Barney Cashman. His is the story of a life not lived - and O'Shea allows the audience to see Barney's longing to connect with another person. There's nervous anticipation (a spritz of cologne, a swipe of the hair) and the polite dance of conversation.

Seiff draws three distinct and equally comic performances out of his trio of stunningly beautiful actresses. The play's humor revolves around how the three very different women orbit Barney - and Seiff makes sure to set his actresses in motion at different speeds and in different trajectories.

Statuesque Gallentine stalks through the set as an imperious succubus, sipping gallons of J&B Scotch and letting fly with zingers like "I need gloves to take off my underwear." Her arch mannerisms, icy stares and sharp tongue give the lines bite as her experienced adulteress toys with the naive and gentle Barney.

Pepperall gives her dingbat actress Bobbi Michele plenty of loony fun. Bobbi Michele talksreallyfastlikethis and she's convinced the world is out to get her. The doorman across the street is a spy. The mysterious "Mr. H" sabotaged her audition and had her committed to an asylum.

If Pepperall doesn't always give the character's insane mannerisms enough bounce to take them from silly to sublime, she does play the second act marijuana scene perfectly. Some of the play's best laughs come as Barney and Bobbi Michele toke up and zone out. Watching blonde bombshell Pepperall's free-spirited character encourage O'Shea's uptight restaurant owner to "breathe in, swallow, exhale" and then seeing the reaction is priceless - and hilarious.

Newcomer Anderson makes perhaps the best impression as depressed Jeanette Fisher, a married friend of the Cashmans. Anderson plays her desperate, angry, soul-searching character with charm and grace. She and O'Shea have magnetic chemistry - and the back-and-forth scenes where he tries to take her pocketbook, which she clutches like a shield - sparkles. Her seething, angry breakdown ultimately drives the play's denouement, where Barney discovers what really matters to him.

Costumer Lori Lucas creates three individual looks for the ladies that match their characters, personalities and help drive the show. Gallentine's elegant seductress gets a stunning black and white skirt, a slinky full-length fur and bold shades. Pepperall's flower-child creation bursts through the door in a psychedelic print and sky-high cork wedges, while Anderson arrives in a neat brown polka dot. Watch for O'Shea's changing parade of ties.

Jim Swanker and Jan Weiss's set (meant to be Cashman's mother's apartment) evokes the best of hermetically sealed pensioner pad. Tasseled lace doilies cover the chair arms of a hideous gold chair and green loveseat. More tassels and bobs decorate curtains and even the closet door handle! Porcelain tchotchkes rest on most flat surfaces. Green glass candy dishes cover the rest. There's beige linoleum, a beige rug, fake plants and a crocheted couch throw. My great aunt, who survived the Depression and saved bread bags, had a place exactly like this.

Seiff gets reliable laughs from his cast and does well to make a 40-year-old play feel fresh, lively and new. His troika of comely comic actress deliver on Simon's promise of making the verbiage sing, while O'Shea sheds light on our need to connect and give our lives meaning. Don't be the last one to see "Last of the Red Hot Lovers."

I kind of wish I'd been a flower child. Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

© 2012 gonaples.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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