Solid acting empowers Last of the Red Hot Lovers

Strong performances fuel the momentum of Central Alberta Theatre’s production of Last of the Red Hot Lovers, currently playing in the Memorial Centre’s Nickle Studio through to April 27.

Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. with the lounge opening at 6:45 p.m.

Directed by Albertus Koett, the story focuses on restaurant owner Barney Cashman (Curtis Closson). Barney is a kind of ‘everyman’ – and he’s looking for a spicy bit of adventure.

Set in the late 1960s, the play, written by Neil Simon, focuses on Barney’s desire to jump on the sexual revolution bandwagon by having an affair – even though he’s happily married and constantly defends his wife and his marriage.

But he feels like he’s missing something. So while his mother is out of her apartment one afternoon a week, he arranges to meet various women there – with decidedly mixed and hilarious results. Closson is great as Barney, and is the only one of the cast of four who is, of course, in every scene. He portrays Barney as a likeable, hapless and innocent type of person, and also manages to nail moments of raw poignancy as well – particularly as the play reaches its conclusion.

However, things get off to a rocky start with Elaine Navazio, a cigarette-smoking, whiskey drinking, tough but attractive woman – a blustery and hilarious foil to Barney’s mild-mannered ways. Brian wants to chat; he wants to ‘understand’ Elaine who is played with gusto by Nicole Orr. But Elaine has been around the block way too many times to sit and chat. Her zingers are witty and well-timed, and Orr showcases her character’s sarcastic, steely yet likeable sides perfectly.

Next up we meet Bobbi Michele, a sexy, flighty actress who admits she doesn’t really know when to stop talking and cheerfully babbles on about everything from the guys who are always chasing her to her own mysterious sexual past. Bobbi, played with loads of charm by Sarah Hemphill, isn’t really aware of Barney’s intentions and their conversation bubbles along with energy and wit.

Lastly, Barney tries again with his wife’s friend Jeanette Fisher, played by Rachelle McComb. Jeanette isn’t exactly the zany life of the party – far from it. She’s severely down in the dumps and needles Barney about everything from happiness to the desperate lack of it, the meaning of life, the pain of ‘melancholia’ and death. She plainly and repeatedly tells Barney she doesn’t find him physically attractive, and tends to indulge in lots of libido-killing ‘philosophizing’.

McComb is terrific as Jeanette, capturing her character’s engaging sweep of changing emotions and behaviour from mousy, shy and seemingly guilt-ridden to frustrated and eventually confrontational. And it’s in Barney’s discourse with Jeanette that some of the most thought-provoking and poignant moments of the play surface as well.

Ultimately, much credit has to go to Koett who truly has brought out the considerable skills of his cast. Each one has a complete and solid understanding on what makes their characters tick, and it all flows along well.

Opening night had a few stumbles, but overall the production flows briskly and pleasantly. Simon writes so well – the script breathes with plenty of feeling and really works to flesh out the characters. By the time it ends, we understand Barney and his conflicting motivations, and learn with him what really provides a sense of ‘place’ and ultimate satisfaction.

Tickets are available at the door or at Black Knight Inn Ticket Centre by calling 403-755-6626 or visiting