Theater Review


    A funny thing happened on the way to the Malibu Stage Co.

    An actress takes ill but the show goes on with Red Hot colors.

    By Caroline Thomas/Special to The Malibu Times

    The unpredictable nature of live theater is often what makes it shine, and the opening weekend of “Last of The Red Hot Lovers” from the Malibu Stage Co. was a glowing testament to that fact.

    The inaugural subscription season of the intimate Malibu stage began with two nights of nearly sold-out seats and pleasantly surprised theatergoers. The company managed to present a poignant and often hysterical version of Neil Simon’s comedy, despite the dramatic last-minute loss of one of the principal players.

    On Friday night-opening night-director Christopher Hart and wife Beth Taylor Hart were driving Act-III-actress Marjorie Bowman when she suddenly became so ill it became necessary to rush her to the hospital. The director stayed with Bowman, missing his premiere, and asked his wife to continue on to the theatre and fill-in for Bowman. The actress eventually recovered from her severe stomach flu, but that night Hart had to read from the script during her performance. Still, she managed to hold her own among these three tremendous roles.

    “Last of The Red Hot Lovers” is Simon’s story of middle-aged Barney Cashman and his maladroit attempt to have an extramarital affair. With each of the three acts comes a new candidate for Barney’s quest; each is heavily loaded with emotional “baggage” that unfolds like a therapist’s “best of.”

    The play opens with Barney’s stealthy entrance into his mother’s apartment-the bunglingly chosen site for his intended rendezvous. Skye McKenzie deftly portrays a working-class New Yorker who wears a navy blue suit to work everyday and brings a bottle of Scotch and Old Spice cologne to his attempt at his first affair in 23 years of marriage.

    Anette Michelle Sanders is compelling as the been-around-the-block bidder number one, Elaine, who is sorely disappointed at the lack of cigarettes despite her wheezy coughing fits.

    Barney offers, “Have you ever tried sleeping with a vaporizer?”

    Elaine retorts, “No, but don’t worry, I’ll get around to everyone.”

    Act II brings the hysteria to stage and audience, alike. Bobbi, played by Jane Brucker (who barely made it to the stage on Saturday night due to car trouble) is wonderful as the scatterbrained lounge singer/actress. Barney wises up and brings two bottles and three packs of cigarettes, but what Bobbi smokes is a different story. “It’s not that strong-it’s a 20-minute freak-out at best,” she quips.

    And smoke pot they do, as an incredulous unrestrained paranoid banter ensues.

    “What is that?” Bobbi exclaims.

    “I can hear my eyes blinking,” she convinces herself. “Thump, thump! Thump, thump!”

    In Act III, Barney begins as a transformed man: he sports a jaunty blazer, champagne replaces the scotch and he happily hums “Some Enchanted Evening.” But when he attempts the affair with one of his wife’s best friends, he slowly deteriorates into a blathering Jackie Gleason-type lout.

    Hart adeptly plays the neurotic Jeanette, despite the presence of script in hand. She repeatedly announces to Barney, “You’re kind, but I don’t find you physically attractive.”

    Barney acquiesces, “You can’t win them all.”

    If Neil Simon shows up-as is rumored-he should be thrilled with Malibu’s version of this Broadway hit. Brucker’s spot-on performance, including the witty dialogue about her Nazi roommate, aka “the beast of Berlin,” has the audience laughing out loud.

    The cast and crew will not soon forget their eventful opening, but as Barney concludes, “I have some problems with my life but living is the best thing they came up with so far.”

    “Last of The Red Hot Lovers” runs through May 12 with shows every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Majorie Bowman returns this weekend in the role of Jeanette Fisher.

    Malibu Stage Co.’s season extends from April through September.

    The season of will also include “Murdering Marlowe,” an original story of a tormented William Shakespeare struggling with the Elizabethan theater scene (opens May 31); “Private Life,” which portrays Noel Coward coping with bad reviews (opens July 12); and “Fellow Traveler,” the story of two Hollywood writers disillusioned by the end of the Cold War (opens Aug. 23).

    A season subscription for four plays is $60 per person. Individual show tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased by calling 310.589.1998. The Malibu Stage Co. theater is located at 29243 Pacific Coast Highway (1/2 mile east of Zuma Beach).