The Domestic Libertine
At the International Theatre: Last of the Red Hot Lovers is no longer shocking, but is still sustained by its cutting irony
The International Theatre’s modern restaging of the classic Neil Simon comedy Last of the Red Hot Lovers is a valiant – and enjoyable – effort that generally succeeds, although it is hampered by an outdated script that struggles in some ways to be relevant.
Jack Babb plays Barney Cashman, a 47-year-old seafood restaurant owner who married his high-school sweetheart, but longs for a liaison with another woman, something to spice up a "nice" life that he says has "gone out of its way to ignore" him. A chronic idealist, he believes he will find something meaningful in each of his three subsequent illicit rendezvous.
The premise is not particularly innovative, and after 40 years, the play’s age is beginning to show. This production, saturated with cell phones, Prozac antidepressants, and references to contemporary pop culture (the movie Black Swan or real estate magnate Donald Trump), feels at times dressed up with nowhere to go. However, most of director Babb’s efforts to modernize the script are elegant and will pass unnoticed to a viewer who is not aware of the play’s origins.
Nonetheless, in a modern context, Barney’s attempted affairs are quaint, if not banal. We laugh not at the incompetent chutzpah of an older man striving for the "sexual liberation" of the younger generation (as the original audience would have it), but at the infidelity that seems to have saturated the whole society.
Some of the funniest moments came with Barney’s first romantic target Elaine (Kudra Owens) and her wisecracking responses to his comedic foil. In one scene, Barney asks Elaine, "Are you as cold as you seem?" Elaine snaps back, "I need gloves to take off my underwear."
Joanna Laverty as Bobbi was almost overpowering, playing an increasingly paranoid actress who hides behind a curtain of words and exaggerated stories. While Laverty’s attempts at singing were more vigorous than skilled, her portrayal of Bobbi’s overwhelming insecurity spiralling into delusional breakdown was thoroughly compelling.
Laura Mitchell’s performance as Jeannette, Barney’s wife’s guilt-ridden best friend, is more subdued than those of the others: Her self-restraint exuded neurosis, and her depression smothered Barney, and the audience, in a brume of despair. Gradually, she dismantles his defenses, forcing him to question the reasons for his quest.
In his search for "something beautiful and decent," Barney gradually realises that he is in fact the last person to be a "red hot lover," as the play’s title hints. Elaine’s coldness horrifies him, Bobbi’s obliviousness frustrates him, and Jeanette’s depression forces him to confront his own self-deception. The lie he has woven around himself unravels, and he realizes that what he most desires has been right in front of him all along.
The Last of the Red Hot Lovers
by Neil Simon
Through Nov. 12; curtain 19:30
International Theatre Vienna
9., Porzellangasse 8
(01) 319 62 72