We've taken a little too long to check out The Warehouse up in Cornelius, missing two power titles, An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf and 'night, Mother, before their current crowd-pleaser, Neil Simon's Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Directed by Jim Esposito, the comedy is driven by a masterful performance by Bob Paolino as Barney Cashman, the midlife seafood restaurant owner hoping for taste of extra-marital naughtiness -- if only he can get the smell of scallops out of his hands!
The three acts (yes, prepare for two intermissions) chronicle successive Barney exercises in seduction. We begin with Elaine, a sophisticated restaurant customer who knows the drill, but she's thwarted and repelled by Barney's shyness, awkwardness, dullness, fastidiousness and shame. As Barney's readiness and romantic technique improve, his choice of women sadly deteriorates, so by Act 3, he's trying to make it in his mom's apartment with Jeanette, a longtime friend who is even more scared of cheating than he is.
Paolino's co-stars get better as the evening moves along. Sharon Doherty has the toughness of Elaine, but there's little sharpness or bite to her worldliness. Truth is, Doherty's affect is often blank, and instead of a lithe seductive body language, she's often stiff as cement. Amy Wada is a definite improvement as Bobbie, an aspiring songstress with paranoid delusions and some very authentic-smelling reefer. Like a promising acting student, Wada delivers all the externals and energies of Bobbie without truly inhabiting her.
Yet Paolino makes them both look good, intensifying his frenetic energies in the face Doherty's deadpan put-downs and going with the flow as Wada lights the weed. Jeanette's opening question, "What am I doing here?" instantly defines the romantic prospects of the final tryst, and Cat Rutledge is the very essence of her terrified, depressed frigidity.
The space on Westmoreland Road is cozy and the seats somewhat punishing for three acts. But this Warehouse effort has an unmistakable elegance, matched by an effeminate set that reminded me of my ex-mother-in-law.