Carnegie Players ‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’ thrills audience

Review by Godfrey Offord.

Kenmare’s Carnegie Players have a reputation for providing first-rate entertainment, and their latest production, ‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’, by Neil Simon, certainly didn’t disappoint. This funny but demanding play, put on at the Carnegie Arts Centre from August 22nd – 25th, has a cast of only four and a script full of word-play and repartee. It needs a degree of concentration and intensity that not all amateur companies can provide, and the Carnegie Players were fortunate in having four accomplished performers well able to rise to the occasion.
The action takes place in the late 1960s, and centres on the efforts of Barney, a middle-aged married man, to make a belated entry into the new permissive age through extra-marital sex. The hero (if that’s the word) is present throughout, and any production stands or falls by the ability of the lead actor to hold the stage, something which Dezy Walls, with his experience as a solo performer, was fully able to achieve. He was well matched by the three contrasting women he tries to seduce. Susan Hennessy as Elaine – period hair-style perfectly poised on her head and clothes to match – cut a convincing figure as a representative of the new promiscuity. She rocked him back on his heels and called his bluff with the directness of her pleasure-seeking. Their interplay, while perhaps lacking in physicality, demonstrated to excellent comic effect how out of his depth Barney was in the new age, and how far she had gone in her quest for gratification.
Having fallen at the first hurdle, Barney makes his next move on the airhead would-be actor Bobbi, played here with unstoppable brio by Joyce Bambury. Her rapid stream-of-consciousness delivery provided a very effective and entertaining illustration of just how off her head she was, even if occasionally it ran us too fast through Neil Simon’s well-constructed wit. Dezy Walls took us smoothly from Barney’s discomfort with Elaine to his bemusement with Bobbi – failure number two – but (as Neil Simon of course intended) nothing prepared either him or us for his third disaster, the melancholic Jeanette, a close friend of his wife and wife of his friend. This was a performance of sustained intensity by Trish O’Connaill, who successfully created much comedy out of misery, while never perhaps fully persuading us that here was a woman who’d thrown herself at Barney a few evenings previously. As the plot progressed, Barney had opportunities to be more than just the foil for the objects of his desires, and it was in these eloquent passages of self-expression, more than the slightly less assured repartee, that Dezy Walls gave of his best.
The credit for this coherent and well-thought-out production must go to director Sheila O’Neil. Everything about the stage showed care and attention to detail. The set, artfully imagined and organised, the choice of decor, the props, the music – these all provided the necessary backdrop against which the action could convincingly proceed. More importantly, the movement of the actors and above all the way they were willing – most of the time – to use their gift for timing and allow the superb comedic writing to provide the laughs, spoke of assured, thoughtful and highly capable direction. In short, this was an excellent outing by the Carnegie Players and represents a step-up in quality that we look forward to being maintained and developed in their future productions.