American playwright Neil Simon once said he enjoyed watching the early comedians like Charlie Chaplin. After high school and a short stint in the Army Air Force Reserve, he began writing comedy scripts for radio and early television shows. His first play was “Come Blow Your Horn” in 1961. Since then, he has received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.
Simon’s “Last Of The Red Hot Lovers,” which premiered in 1969, is now playing at The North Coast Repertory Theatre, whose staff claims nobody does Neil Simon like they do. Christopher Williams directs, and the cast includes Phil Johnson (Barney Cashman), Katie Karel (Elaine), Noelle Marion (Bobbi), and Sandy Campbell (Jeanette).
“Barney Cashman is a bored middle-aged, overworked man with no experience in covert maneuvers,” Johnson said. “That’s because he’s dating three different women besides his wife. His bungled attempts at seduction leave audiences howling with laughter, and for me, working with three absolutely beautiful — and really talented — actresses is grand.”
Johnson is part owner of the New Theatre troupe The Roustabouts, and said this play reminds him of another Simon delight, “London Suite.”
“It’s three separate plays in one act, and it’s a ball to have three different situations and work with women who are really quick and good,” he said. “For me, being a writer, actor and a director, it’s a gift in understanding storytelling.
“I tend to take a play apart and look at it from the structure. What was Simon’s progress during the play, because he definitely has to go through changes to get to the end, and it changes with each of the women.
“What I like about Neil Simon, and I’ve done about three of his plays, is he has a real way of making wonderful sense of real emotion and drama in a play.”
IF YOU GO: “Last Of The Red Hot Lovers” is on stage through Oct 1 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets from $46. northcoastrep.org