The intimate confines of the Black Box Theatre make a perfect stage for a production of Neil Simon's "Last of the Red Hot Lovers," opening tomorrow and running on weekends through Oct. 24.
Sitting close to the stage, audience members become the eavesdropping neighbors the main character, Barney Cashman, fears is listening through the paper-thin walls of his mother's apartment. And in this venue, lead actor John Hamilton Jr. knows the audience can see every movement of his face in his charming portrayal of Barney as he reacts to the colorful lives his stage partners share with him.
Some people buy expensive cars or jewelry or get a face-lift or other appearance enhancements during a midlife crisis. In "Last of the Red Hot Lovers," Barney Cashman, 47 and married for 23 years, decides an affair is the only thing that would prove that he hasn't just existed -- but has, indeed, lived. In three attempts to change his mundane life, Cashman picks women with diverse needs and wishes of their own, none of them complementing his agenda.
In Act I, Cashman is defined. A businessman, he owns a seafood restaurant that he opens each day at promptly 11 a.m. It is a business that leaves his fingers forever smelling of oysters.
Arriving at his mother's empty apartment, Barney tries to keep it as tidy as his own life, leaving his rain rubbers atop absorbing paper just inside the front door and carrying cologne and breath spray in his attache. Mom is out volunteering a couple hours in the afternoon, unknowingly leaving the apartment at her son's disposal.
Barney plans to seduce Elaine -- flirtatiously played by Dianna Catterton -- a leather-clad, boot-wearing young married woman looking for some excitement of her own. She doesn't find it with Barney as he wastes what little time they have nervously explaining his life to her.
Ultimately, Elaine departs, and Barney looks heavenward and promises to never do this again. Until Act II, that is.
It's a hot, sticky August afternoon when Barney -- obviously forgetting the promise he made to himself -- opens the door to young actress Bobbi Michelle, escorting her in to his mother's apartment. Bobbi Michelle -- played to perfection by Kelly Tuohy -- has just come from an audition and is there, or so she thinks, to repay Barney the $20 he lent her the day before in the park when they met.
Bobbi Michelle is a lovable yet ditzy young thing who thinks nothing of changing clothes in front of Barney. Constantly switching subjects and incessantly eating his mother's M&Ms, she avoids drinking the scotch and vodka Barney has brought along and turns down a cigarette because she "doesn't smoke."
Hamilton uses his facial and body acting skills to the hilt as Bobbi Michelle describes all the crazy situations she has been in with a number of sordid, deranged men -- including a kidnap plot involving her dog. When she asks for a light, Barney comments, "I thought you didn't smoke." He quickly realizes she does smoke, but not tobacco.
"Is that marijuana?" Barney asks softly, fearing those nosey neighbors behind the walls are listening. Sure enough it is, which explains Bobbi Michelle's munchies, as well as a few other things.
In an effort to get Bobbi Michelle to leave (Mom's sure to be coming home soon, and the apartment must be rid of that peculiar odor), Barney agrees to a few puffs. It is not long before Barney and Bobbi Michelle both fade away.
But this experience has not been enough to alter Barney's life, so he gives it another try about a month later. Clearly a changed man -- he has traded the blue business suit for a sporty beige jacket with a turtleneck -- Barney welcomes yet another woman to his mother's abode. This time he has invited Jeannette and offers champagne rather than liquor, and he opens the sleep sofa to the "ready" position.
Middle-aged, prudish and hell-bent on holding her purse close to her chest, Jeannette -- in an angst-filled performance by Suzan Lundy -- is a mutual friend of Barney's and his wife. She enters crying, stomping about the place, confused about why she has agreed to this meeting. She insists she is not physically attracted to Barney, tells him that she hasn't slept with her husband in eight months and announces she's suffering from melancholia.
Barney can do nothing but throw his hands up, declaring, "Boy, can I pick them."
Jeanette listens to Barney's tirade about his last two failed attempts at seduction, and somehow the two end up in a discussion about the meaning of decency. Eventually they agree they are both decent people, as is Barney's wife. Jeannette leaves, no harm done.
Finally, having learned his lesson, Barney begins to fold up the sofa bed in anticipation of his mother's return when he picks up the phone and invites yet another woman to the apartment -- someone who might just be able to give him that moment that will change his life -- his wife.
Director Justin McKean's talents are superbly displayed in the production. McKean, who last directed the Port Tobacco Players in "Inherit the Wind," is the theater teacher and show director at La Plata High School.
"Last of the Red Hot Lovers" -- an adult comedy (language, sex, drugs, smoking, alcohol) -- 8 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday and Oct. 15, 16, 22 and 23, with 3 p.m. matinees on Sunday and Oct. 17 and 24. Reservations are recommended. Adults, $15; seniors and students, $12. Black Box Theatre at the Indian Head Center for the Arts, 4185 Indian Head Hwy., Indian Head. 301-743-3040.