Smokehouse Players stage Neil Simon’s ‘Red Hot Lovers’ June 6-8

Smokehouse Players stage Neil Simon’s ‘Red Hot Lovers’ June 6-8

“How can you not appreciate Neil Simon?” Terry Vaughan asks rhetorically. “Everyone loves his wit and the delightful and complex characters he creates.”

Simon’s plays were the gold standard on Broadway from the 1960s into the 1980s — “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple,” “The Sunshine Boys,” “Sweet Charity,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues” — the list goes on and on. “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” opened in December 1969, ran for two years, was nominated for the 1970 Tony Award for Best Play, and became a film with Alan Arkin — and it’s still one of Simon’s lesser known hits.

“It’s a comedy, of course; it’s Neil Simon,” says Vaughan, co-founder of Fayetteville’s Smokehouse Players, where the play will be on stage June 6-8. “But in his genius, it’s also a morality play. It takes place in New York during the sexual revolution, and it is about decent people who are trying to act indecently because everyone else is doing it and they want to be part of something exciting before life passes them by.

“The play is over 50 years old, but it holds up very well because it is about the human condition: our desperate desire to connect, the angst of aging, and our universal fear of missing out. All very relevant today.”

At the center of the story is Barney Cashman, an aging restaurateur who is happily married but, as actor Tim Gilster puts it, is “obsessed with the idea of having an affair.”

Led astray by the “everybody else is doing it” excuse, Barney “has romanticized this idea so he believes it is OK — because he would only have one affair — one perfect afternoon with another woman that would be so beautiful the memory would last him the rest of his life,” Gilster says. “Things don’t turn out like he hoped they would, and the chaos that ensues is hilarious.”

Gilster describes the three women Barney attempts to seduce as “kooks.” Critics describe them as “a foul-mouthed bundle of neuroses; a 20-ish actress who’s too kooky by half; and a gloomy, depressed housewife who happens to be married to Barney’s best friend.”

Amy Jones, who appeared in the Smokehouse production of “Talking With,” plays Elaine Navazio, the first of Barney’s attempted conquests.

“Elaine is an aging hedonist,” she describes. “She is as free spirited as is possible while being married in late ’60s East Coast America. She wants to take a bite out of life — and Barney! — because she wants to feel alive and like she has agency in her life.

“It’s certainly a funny show, but there is a poignant depth to it,” Jones adds. “These are lonely people searching for connection in their own awkward ways. These characters are hot messes, which is funny to watch, but aren’t we all?”

Next comes Bobbi Michele, a much younger aspiring actress and singer from California, played by Juliette Robinson, a veteran Northwest Arkansas actress seen in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Other Desert Cities” and “Revolutionists.”

“Like me, she has big dreams and ambitions,” says Robinson of her character. “Unlike me, she’s led a highly colorful life. I mean, she filmed a movie with the Beach Boys! She might get to do a series of one night concerts in New Zealand! I’m lucky if I’ve got Friday night plans. I admire her zest for life.

“I am trying to find all the complex parts of her — while not forgetting the light and fluffy bits that are just fun to laugh at,” she adds. “Like life, this play is a funny and thoughtful mixture of dark and light, funny and grave.”

Strike three for Barney is Jeanette Fisher, played by Gilster’s real-life wife Terry Vaughan.

“I love Jeanette,” Vaughan says. “She is hilarious, heartbreaking, and relentless. Jeanette is one of the most depressed women in the world — about humanity in general — and the sexual revolution in particular because it has created a new way of thinking and a society where she no longer belongs. Like me, Jeanette is not about the sizzle, she’s about the steak. And that leaves her on the outside edge of popular culture because she isn’t caught up in ‘what’s hot.’

“The play has a light side with a dark edge, so it’s great meat to chew on,” she adds.

“‘Lovers’ is definitely light for most of the show, but with some serious soul searching done by the main character,” says director Warren Rosenaur. “Hopefully we have created a nice balance of light and fun with a bit of poignancy.”



‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. June 6-8

WHERE — Ozark Mountain Smokehouse, 1725 S. Smokehouse Trail in Fayetteville

COST — Free; donations from the June 6 show go to Magdalene Serenity House

INFO — or call 935-4219

FYI — Magdalene Serenity House is a nonprofit that helps rebuild the lives of women who have experienced trauma, sexual exploitation, addiction, or incarceration through safe housing, long-term support, and community partnerships.

Categories: Cover Story