By CHUCK GRAHAM
Sex is in the air, what with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” playing at the movies and Neil Simon’s “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” opening at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.
Simon’s protagonist, Barney Cashman, is also in his 40s, though he’s been happily married for 23 years and hopes to stay that way.
Social historians will want to see both shows. What makes the comparison interesting is how “Red Hot Lovers” was a hit in 1969, when the sexual revolution was just getting started. It also became a popular movie in 1972, with Alan Arkin appearing as Barney.
At LTW, Jeremy Thompson plays the ambitious Barney, determined to have an affair with somebody – anybody – just to get in on the fun everybody else seems to be having. Back in those days, Playboy magazine set the gold standard for morally questionable behavior. Rolling Stone was just beginning to rock ‘n’ roll. While the Summer of Love was turning into a marathon of passion for all seasons, respectable people such as Barney weren’t sure how to act. All he knew was those people under 30 with their long hair and sandals seemed to be having an awfully good time.
Barney’s window of opportunity occurs when he realizes that one afternoon each week his mother’s New York apartment is unoccupied for two hours. With the hippie songs of Jefferson Airplane no doubt playing in his head, Barney begins to make plans.
He runs a restaurant. He knows lots of people. How hard can it be?
Simon builds his play on Barney’s “desperately endearing attempts” to seduce three different women. The first is Elaine (Jodi Rankin), a cynical female who loves scotch and cigarettes. She’s apparently married to the Mob, as well. Her experience and expectations aren’t exactly the same as that girl in the song, going to California with flowers in her hair.
Although Barney has always been a good Jewish boy who follows all the rules, he realizes someone who actually looks more like that California girl might be a better choice for his affair. In the park he spots Bobbi (Missie Scheffman), a budding flower child who’s feeling sexually adventurous. But she’s also a total ditz and somewhat paranoid. That’s why she wants to grow up to be an actor.
Geez, what’s wrong with people? All Barney wants is a meaningful fling. Is that too much too ask?
The third member of this titillating triptych is a friend of the family, Jeanette (Nell Summers). She is the best friend of Barney’s unsuspecting wife.
Even though Jeanette is a dues-paying member of the same social strata as Barney, she’s also obsessed with how her own husband had an affair with another of Jeanette’s lady friends.
That’s about the time Barney the red hot lover begins to realize that giving a wack to his moral compass in midlife can be more dangerous than changing horses in midstream.
if you go
What: Live Theatre Workshop presents “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” by Neil Simon.
When: Previews at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 1 and 2, opens at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 3, 3 p.m. matinee Sept. 4, continuing at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 2.
Where: Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.
How much: $10 for preview, $15 general admission, $13 for students, senior citizens and military personnel.
Details: For reservations, call 327-4242.