Last of the Red Hot Lovers Analysis

Neil Simon

The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Last of the Red Hot Lovers begins on a bright December afternoon as Barney Cashman, a forty-seven-year-old man who is conservatively dressed and carries an attache case, rings the doorbell and then uses his key to enter what turns out to be his mother’s small apartment. He carefully hangs his overcoat in the closet, puts his rubbers on a piece of newspaper, closes the drapes, and lights the lamps. Next, he removes a bottle of scotch and two tumblers from his attache case, setting them on the table. Finally, he takes out a bottle of aftershave lotion and applies it lavishly to his face and hands, smelling his fingers when he has finished.

Next Barney moves the coffee table and opens the convertible bed. Then, somewhat nervously, he reverses his action, taking a drink as he telephones the cashier at his restaurant to say that he will not be in until later because he is Christmas shopping at Bloomingdale’s. At this point, Barney speaks aloud, saying, “What the hell am I doing here?” and goes toward the closet as if to leave. He is stopped, however, by the doorbell announcing the arrival of Elaine Navazio.

Described by the playwright as “a somewhat attractive woman in her late thirties, having an air of desperation about her,” Elaine has accepted an invitation from Barney, anticipating a routine sexual encounter. He, however, has something quite different in mind. He tries to explain to her that he considers his life to have been completely uneventful—just “nice”—and so he is seeking a romantic affair, the first in his twenty-three years of marriage. There is much comedy as Elaine becomes desperate for a cigarette—Barney is a nonsmoker—and also over his attempts to “communicate” with her while she continues to remind him that they are wasting precious time, for Barney’s mother is due to return at five o’clock. Clearly, these two people are completely incompatible, and the act ends with a verbal battle. Barney tries in vain to explain his desire to “live a little” before he dies, but Elaine replies, “no one gives a good crap about you dying because a lot of people have discovered it ahead of you. We’re all dying, Mr. Cashman. As a matter of fact, I myself passed away about six months ago.”

As the act ends, Barney vows aloud never to repeat this experience, but the next act, which takes place eight months later, finds Barney again in his mother’s apartment, awaiting Bobbi Michele. Determined not to repeat his failure, Barney now has two bottles, scotch and vodka, and three packs of cigarettes. He again closes the blinds and telephones the restaurant, this time saying that he is at the dentist’s office. After spraying his fingers to be sure there is no fishy odor remaining...

(The entire section is 1126 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The physical setting of Last of the Red Hot Lovers, described as a small, modern apartment with paper-thin walls and “good furniture” from a past era, gives the audience a clear picture of the protagonist’s background. Barney’s attempts to obliterate all evidence of having been there, even to plumping up the sofa pillows, make clear his rather timid personality. Furthermore, his preference for this apartment, despite the perils of being overheard by the neighbors, illustrates his romanticism. He tells Elaine that a motel room “seemed too sordid.”

The apartment itself contrasts sharply with the women who visit there, especially Elaine and Bobbi, and much comic dialogue is based on Barney’s attempts to appear an experienced seducer in such a place.

Barney has chosen to attempt his affairs during a very brief period in which his mother is customarily out, doing charity work for a hospital. The short time span he has allowed makes for comedy, but it also points up Barney’s unrealistic expectations. How can one dream of true interaction, culminating in a memorable relationship, when there is a two-hour time limit?

“Running gags,” some of which are visual, are devices common to the comedy of Neil Simon. In fact, audiences are frequently so busy laughing that serious themes may go unrecognized. For example, Elaine’s need for a cigarette continues to her exit line: “Oh, please, God, let there be a machine in the lobby.” Bobbi’s increasingly bizarre stories are such a device, as is Jeanette’s reluctance to part with her handbag. The fishy smell that returns to Barney’s hands each afternoon is symbolic of his repetitive, boring existence, a motivation for his attempt to “live a little before he dies.”

Since this is a three-act play, Simon is able to show his protagonist in relation to three quite different women; however, Barney remains basically unchanged. Therefore, the audience is able to laugh at his ineptness while still remaining sympathetic to him. His inability to persuade Thelma to join him in what he hopes will be a romantic interlude makes a hilarious ending. However, it also serves to highlight the plight of those who, unable to deal with mid-life crisis, or change their standards of morality, must simply live out their decent, uneventful lives without realizing their romantic dreams.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Henry, William A., III. “Reliving a Poignant Past.” Time, December 15, 1986, 72-78.

Johnson, Robert K. Neil Simon. Boston: Twayne, 1983.

Konas, Gary, ed. Neil Simon: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1997.

McGovern, Edythe M. Neil Simon: A Critical Study. New York: Ungar, 1978.

Simon, Neil. Interview by Lawrence Linderman. Playboy 26 (February, 1979): 58.

Simon, Neil. The Play Goes On. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.

Woolf, Michael. “Neil Simon.” In American Drama, edited by Clive Bloom. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.