"Life has not only been very kind to me, but it goes out of its way to ignore me."
In Neil Simon's "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers," Barney Cashman, who has been happily married to a high school sweetheart for 23 years and opens his seafood restaurant at 11 a.m. every morning, wonders wistfully if life shouldn't be something "better than nice." At 43, a trifle paunchy, he tries to add zest to his nice life with a romantic fling or two.
Simons's "Red Hot Lovers" has become a staple of light summer theater fare by now. The Fine Line Actor's Theater is staging the Simon play on weekends at d.c. space. It is a hilarious romp for both cast and audience even if the comic timing isn't always as crisp as it might be.
Leonard Martinoli is a perfect look-alike for the Barney Cashmans of life. His shirt strains at the buttons over his paunch. His suit is rumpled to match his slouches. He fidgets with his tie, perspires on his blue shirt, and nervously checks his fingers for the smell of fish.
Martinoli's Barney is endearing as he fumbles his attempts at seduction. But he can't quite carry off the farceur elements of the character. His face is not mobile enough to register a range of reactions as Barney listens in amazement to the kooky girl he picked up in the park.
The three women whom Barney invites for assignations at his mother's efficiency apartment (she does hospital charity work until 5 p.m. two days a week) offer three marvelously comic characters for Constance Fowlkes, Marla Orchen and Lynette Charboneau.
As Elaine, Fowlkes brings just the right touch to the role of the experienced gal who likes sex and doesn't want to spend the time talking and getting to know each other. She snaps off her lines with confidence. Orchen is the kooky young chatterer who reels off a string of amazing stories about a Nazi-like voice coach and a Hollywood bigwig who kidnaps her dog and music.
Jeanette, who is one of his wife's best friends, is the third choice for a rendezvous. She turns out to be burdened with melancholia, and Barney finds himself handling such questions as: "How much of your life do you actually enjoy?" Since Jeanette enjoys only 8.2 percent of her life, it isn't a very enjoyable afternoon for Barney. Charboneau is properly dour but the comic lines don't work as well as in the earlier two episodes.
Except for minor lapses in timing, Jane LeGrand's direction doesn't miss a hilarious trick. One problem may be the small stage, which limits some of the farcical scenes around the sofa.
"The Last of the Red Hot Lovers" is scheduled for performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays at d.c. space, 7th and E streets NW. There is a special Thursday showing on June 25 at 8 p.m. The show is scheduled to run through June 28th. If another theater space can be found, the run will be extended.