‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’ to take stage at F.M. Kirby Center Feb. 17
WILKES-BARRE — A celebrated stage comedy aims to show Northeastern Pennsylvania that failing at adultery can be funny.
The Walnut Street Theater Company of Philadelphia will perform Neil Simon’s ‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’ at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at the F.M. Kirby Center.
The Tony Award-winning story follows middle-aged, mild mannered Barney Cashman as he attempts to join the sexual revolution of the ’60s in a series of unsuccessful affairs that make him realize he cherishes his wife.
Karen Peaks plays all three of Barney’s intended tryst partners: Elaine, an extrovert with a penchant for married men; Bobbi, a loony young actress; and Jeanette, the depressed wife of his best friend.
“It’s so much work, but it’s so much fun,” Peaks said of playing all three female leads.
Peaks, who stars opposite Fran Prisco in the role of Barney Cashman, said it’s a treat for her to play three characters all so different than herself in one night.
“It’s like doing three separate complete shows every night, because each act is its own thing,” Peaks said.
Peaks said her triple role modernizes the play and drives home the message for audiences.
“We thought because the play is a little dated and a little misogynistic, having one woman have that kind of power throughout evens the playing field and also makes it more obvious that Barney is having the same experience over and over, because he already has what he needs and just doesn’t realize it yet,” Peaks said.
Peaks describes Elaine as a “brassy broad” who “tells it like it is” and makes Barney know what he doesn’t want.
She describes Bobbi as a “whack job,” whose fun, party-girl demeanor belies a loose screw.
“It escalates quickly, so he just wants her out of his apartment, because he’s terrified,” Peaks said.
Jeanette leads Barney to reflect on his own situation.
“She’s absolutely depressed and miserable and forces him to think about his own life,” she said. “He realizes he needs to embrace what he has.”
Peaks said the three characters work together to make Barney appreciate his relationship with his wife in a way that none could have done individually and her scene partner, Prisco, is ideal for the role.
“I can imagine it’d be easy to play up the cutesy, pitiful side of Barney, but I think Fran makes him a viable man,” Peaks said. “It’s not unbelievable that these women would find him attractive and he would have these encounters, but it’s also not unbelievable that they would fail horribly.”
Peaks said the play has universal appeal because it speaks to anyone who has ever felt stale in a relationship.
“This play can remind us of the need to constantly be renewing and exploring our relationships and valuing what we do have,” Peaks said.
Fortunately, Peaks said, comedy is the vehicle used to deliver that message.
“I feel like, especially in a time such as we’re living in, people need to be able to go somewhere and laugh and forget,” Peaks said. “I feel like doing a show like this is the only way I can concretely provide a service to people. I hope it’s some kind of contribution that I’m making.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: ‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’
Where: F.M. Kirby Center, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17
Additional information: Tickets range from $18 to $38 and are available through the Kirby Center box office, online at kirbycenter.org and by phone at 570-826-1100.