"Last of the Red Hot Lovers" at Andrews Living Arts Studio in Fort Lauderdale doesn’t heat up until the second act.
With three acts over two hours with two 10-minute intermissions, that is a problem.
Set in 1969, the Neil Simon comedy centers on Barney Cashman (Scott Travis), who wants in on the sexual revolution. Despite loving his wife, the seafood restaurateur plans afternoon trysts at his mother's Manhattan apartment, which is abandoned during the day. No-tell motels are "too cheap, too sordid" says Cashman for his cheap, sordid extramarital plans. (Full disclosure: Travis is a Sun Sentinel reporter.)
First up is Elaine Navazio (Lory Reyes), a hard-drinking, nicotine-needy libertine Cashman picked up in his restaurant. Hot-to-trot Elaine is ready to romp, sending nebbish Barney into stall tactics. Both actors seem to have trouble folding themselves into the characters. They skim above what is needed, only occasionally bumping up against it, as when Reyes — wanting another whiskey — snaps, "You gonna let that bottle just sit there or are you turning it into a lamp?" She could be drier, and he could sustain the nervous energy more.
Even though Travis never really settles into Simon's edgy, frustrated vibe, he does a much better job in the second act with Bobbi Michele (Yanina Aranes), a hippy, dippy ditz. Barney meets her in Central Park after loaning her money for an accompanist for an audition, but she's much too flaky and into her own nonstop chatter to even notice that he is trying to seduce her. Aranes is terrific. Somehow, she realized that Simon's humor comes from the easy relatability and not knocking a zinger out of the park. A light touch is what is needed, and she has it.
Cashman’s third strike comes with Jeanette Fisher (Reyes again), a melancholy Debbie Downer who is too distracted with her own indifferent husband and philosophical questions to focus on philandering. We should see how every time Barney's routine is altered, but that sight gag never comes into focus and often the blocking seems stiff and even pointless (Hey, why are you going over there? What's over there?).
However, here late in the third act, we can see the hand of director Robert D. Nation more clearly - keeping Reyes unmoored from the romantic interlude even if she then has trouble ramping up when Barney finally loses it - as the play's true meaning comes to the surface: a satire of a man's midlife crisis.
"Last of the Red Hot Lovers" runs through April 14 at Andrews Living Arts Studio, 23 NW Fifth St., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 3 p.m. matinees Sundays. Tickets cost $24.95 for adults; $21.95 for senior citizens and $16.95 for students with ID. Call 800-838-3006 or go to AndrewsLivingArts.com.