Don Juan or Don Draper? Don’t bet on it

Olympia Little Theatre’s ‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’ follows exploits of a wannabe legendary suitor who turns out more like Don Knotts

Contributing writerSeptember 6, 2013 

Olympia Little Theatre is launching its season with a trip back in time to the era of free love.

The theater’s production of Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” is set in 1969, the same year the show made its Broadway debut.

“It’s representative of an era in American culture, in the same way ‘Mad Men’ is,” said Toni Holm, president of the theater’s board. “That’s what’s cool about the play. It’s a view into a time and place.”

The play follows the adventures of middle-age restaurateur Barney Cashman, who aims to experience the sexual revolution for himself, although he’s happily married.

Kathryn Beall, the theater’s artistic director, also compared the play with the popular AMC television series that follows the adventures and affairs of advertising executive Don Draper.

“Barney Cashman is no Don Draper, but he wants to be,” Beall said. “His plans for seduction kind of blow up in his face, and he learns the same thing that Dorothy learns in ‘The Wizard of Oz’: ‘There’s no place like home.’”

Much has been made of the prominent adultery in “Mad Men,” and this play treads on some of the same ground. “It was considered de rigueur, a rite of passage, for men to swing,” Holm said.

Times have changed, but reviewers of recent productions conclude that Simon’s humor still works, even though babies born the year the show debuted are now nearly as old as Barney.

“Some of Mr. Simon’s humor sits awkwardly between being outdated and having vintage charm … but the double entendres still hit their marks,” Anita Gates wrote in The New York Times review of a June production in Croton Falls, N.Y. “And many lines have stood the test of time, like Barney’s panicked observation after a few hits of cannabis: ‘I can hear my eyes blinking.’”

The show follows Barney through attempts at affairs with three very different women.

“They are different in every way,” director Toni Murray said. “Each one is such a different character type. The audience is going to enjoy the differences from act to act, and that’s part of the fun.”

But the would-be Don Juan strikes out three times. Just how inept is he? To begin with, he hopes to accomplish the seduction in his mother’s apartment, free for the afternoon while she is out doing volunteer work. The clincher: Mom only has a sofa bed.

Actor Paul Gisi said the role is challenging, given that Barney is on stage the entire time. “It’s my biggest role to date,” he said.

But he can relate to it, at least to some degree. Like Barney, Gisi has been married for 23 years, and he’s 48, while his character is 47.

“There are a lot of parallels — except for the attempts to have an affair,” he said. “A lot of it is right on about men and women and their relationships and life in general.

“My wife helps me run lines,” he added. “We get a kick out of it.” ‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’

What: Olympia Little Theatre opens its season with Neil Simon’s comedy about a man determined to catch up with the sexual revolution.

When: 7:55 p.m. Friday and Saturday plus Sept. 12-14, 19-21 and 26-28; matinees at 1:55 p.m. Sept. 15, 22 and 29

Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia

Tickets: $12-$15 at Yenney Music or olympialittletheatre.org

More information: 360-786-9484; olympialittletheatre.org

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