The lights dimmed on Saturday as veteran Clare Rose Playhouse actor/director Jason Dunne took center stage to greet the audience and announce the run of his show Last of The Red Hot Lovers at the St. Joseph’s College theater in Patchogue. Dunne dedicated the play to the late Bob Maletta, associate director at the theater for 23 years who died in early September.
Dunne said he knew Maletta for 25 years. He related just how much Maletta loved theater, then asked the audience for a round of applause instead of a moment of silence. This response from the audience was so apropos for a man who was always jolly with a hardy laugh that could ignite a crowd.
Last of The Red Hot Lovers was Maletta’s choice to start the 2018-2019 season at Clare Rose. He even cast most of the show before he suddenly fell ill. He requested that Dunne take over the reigns as director and bring the show to completion. Dunne did just that for his longtime friend and mentor. Maletta would be thrilled that his beloved theater didn’t miss a beat in production.
Maletta was known for choosing and directing madcap comedies, and this final offering is a perfect topper on his long, accomplished career. Last of The Red Hot Lovers is one of Neil Simon’s most iconic gems, chock full of quips and one-liners that emit peals of laughter from audiences.
The comedy centers on 47-year-old Barney Cashman (James Carey), owner of a seafood restaurant, who is going through a mid-life crisis after being married to his wife Thelma for 23 years. He tries to conduct his first foray into adultery with Elaine Navazio (Jacqueline Misholy), a chain-smoking, heavy drinking vamp who covets other women’s husbands. Her sexual prowess is no match for the bungling, unsophisticated Barney who invites her to join him for this tryst in his mother’s tidy Manhattan studio apartment.
Barney soon gets on her nerves causing her to toss out one insult after the next until she makes a final exit leaving him to mull over his unrequited attempt at an extramarital affair. Carey’s innocent puppy dog eyes, as he fumbles through his lascivious intentions, are comical. Misholy’s assertive and sexy Elaine keeps Barney and the audience wondering will she or won’t she until the final slam of the door.
He then chooses kooky actress Bobbi Michele (Beth Witford) for his second attempt at an affair. Witford’s high energy is captivating as she jumps around the set until she settles on the sofa next to Barney and starts to smoke marijuana. Her free spirited character is startling to Barney who becomes anxious to get rid of her. She mentions a former suicide attempt and threatens not to leave until he joins her in some pot. He reluctantly complies, and they soon dissolve in tears commiserating over their respective depressing lives.
Barney tries one last time for an affair with Jeanette Fisher (Elizabeth Degennaro), his wife’s best friend who came on to him at a recent cocktail party at her house after she learned her husband, Mel, was having an affair. Barney invites her to the apartment, but she shows up weepy and distraught. Every time he attempts to come on to her, she douses him with cold-water comments like, “You’re not gonna have a good time with me.”
She clutches her pocketbook to her chest despite Barney’s efforts to calm her and extricate the dam bag. Jeannette breaks into tears as she repeatedly blurts out, “I’m not attracted to you physically. I’m attracted to you emotionally but not physically.” Barney remains undaunted at first and says, “Sit back, relax, put the pocketbook down.” To that Jeanette discloses, “I cannot taste food.” And we know from that point on, Barney’s third attempt at having an affair will go the way of the other two. Degennaro’s animated Jeanette is a delight.
Ultimately, Barney decides his best bet at having an afternoon of seduction is to invite his wife Thelma to join him at Mom’s apartment. Well, at least now he will be able to take advantage of that convertible sofa.
Jason Dunne has created a fun-filled romp making the most of Neil Simon’s confection. His mentor, Bob Maletta, would be thrilled with this gift of laughter.
Last of the Red Hot Lovers runs through October 14 at Clare Rose Playhouse, 155 Roe Boulevard, in Patchogue. Call 631-654-0199 or visit sjcny.edu/long-island/student-life/clarerose.