A Neil Simon play makes the Portland Players red hot
CASTING COUCH: Trying out the extramarital.
It’s 1969 in New York, but the promiscuity of the sexual revolution has not had its way with Barney Cashman (Jaimie Schwartz). A straight-laced seafood-restaurant owner with a wife and three girls, a Buick, and lots of blue suits, Barney barely knows where to begin when it comes to the pursuit of the extramarital. But pursue he does, with endearing earnestness: He makes attempts on three wildly different women in Last of the Red Hot Lovers, a psychologically savvy, warm, and sweetly conservative comedy by Neil Simon, smartly directed by Michael Rafkin for the Portland Players.
Force of will
“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” Hamlet famously lectures Rosencrantz, but even he might be floored by the proportions of Florence Foster Jenkins’s Platonic self-conception. In 1932, this wealthy New York socialite of highly questionable pitch, key, and rhythm decided that she was a great singer. And presto! Teaming up with a pianist of mediocre talent but a fabulous name — Cosme McMoon — she proceeded to give off-key recitals all over town, establish a huge cult following, and eventually sell out Carnegie Hall in a record three hours.
This case of self-creation-via-brute-belief is true, was recently a hit on Broadway, and is presented this month on the stage of the Good Theater, starring two actors with numerous Broadway credits; both Liz McCartney and Bob Stillman have played their respective roles before, elsewhere, and come to Maine to reprise them for local audiences.
Souvenir is set in memory and a Greenwich Village nightclub in 1964, both excellent locales for an expansive view of the past’s relative glories. It runs at the St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center in Portland through November 18. Call 207.885.5883.
We first meet Schwartz’s excellent, wide-ranging Barney in the long, near-wordless sequence with which, to Sinatra’s “Witchcraft,” he enters his mother’s gray-green apartment, the setting of his attempted afternoon trysts: He peeks his head in cautiously; steps in as if onto glass; leaps lightly to the side, in horror, as he remembers his wet rubbers; vaults spy-like to the edge of the window to swivel the blinds closed; with nervous exultation unpacks from his briefcase a bottle of scotch and two new rocks glasses; and unfolds and bounces on his mom’s sofa-bed.
Though speechless, all this is hilariously revealing of Barney’s character, and becomes an important baseline against which to measure his evolution. It’s an important, make-or-break few minutes for the actor, and very auspicious: Schwartz’s physical work here and throughout the play is virtuosic. Rafkin’s direction gives great attention to how all the bodies in the play express psyche and (sometimes) soul, and Schwartz has a physical fluency that’s bright and unforced. He has it from the get-go as, flushed and boyish, he prepares for the arrival of his first Other Woman.
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