The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble is winding up its season of Ruptured Romances with a sharp, beautifully paced production of Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” which premiered on Broadway 50 years ago.

Generally billed as a comedy, “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” is also a wry social commentary on the so-called sexual revolution.

Veteran actor Les Taylor tackles the demanding role of Barney Cashman, a middle-aged restaurateur who has decided to have an affair. He awkwardly chooses to invite a series of seemingly interested women to his mother’s staid apartment, which has religious symbols hanging on the walls.

 

I found Cashman difficult to like at first, but under the direction of David I.L. Poole, Taylor brings new dimensions to the character in each of the three acts. Barney can be childish, demanding and impulsive, but his idealistic and romantic impulses overshadow his carnality.

April Hayes brings a dark, cynical edge to the aggressive Elaine, the first woman who visits the apartment. Of course, Barney’s taste for social decorum and pleasantries gets in the way; he’s not as ready for a random sexual encounter as he imagines.

Whether he likes it or not, Barney is more super-ego than id.

Kelley Gray has some great comic moments as the second prospective mistress Bobbi, who embodies too many hippie-era stereotypes to be taken with any seriousness. Julie Kessler conveys the complexities of the depressed Jeanette, an old friend of Barney and his wife.

“Last of the Red Hot Lovers” certainly feels dated at times, but I was struck by the immediacy of several themes, including the middle-aged impulse to reassess and reimagine our lives. (Yes, I’m just two years younger than Barney.)

We are fortunate to have an ensemble with the consistency and professionalism of The Collective Face, which will launch its 10th season later this year.

The recently announced 2019-20 season will be devoted to the theme of Imposturing Identities and participate in the festival Jubilee, which is dedicated to featuring work by people who have often been marginalized in American society. The ambitious combination of plays includes the Australian musical “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

“Last of the Red Hot Lovers” continues at 8 p.m. May 17 and 18 and 3 p.m. May 19. Tickets ($25 general admission, $20 for seniors, students and active military) are available via Brown Paper Tickets. Performances are in the theater at the Kennedy Fine Arts building at Savannah State University.

 

Bill Dawers writes City Talk in Savannah Morning News and blogs at Savannah Unplugged (www.billdawers.com) and hissing lawns (www.hissinglawns.com). Email billdawers@comcast.net.