The Last Romance -- a Lovely Love Story
By Amy J. Barry
The Last Romance is a bittersweet love story in every sense of the word. Bitter in how hard it can be to let go of past hurts and resentments...sweet in it’s innocent premise that it’s never too late to fall in love.
Now at the Ivoryton Playhouse, The Last Romance , which debuted at Kansas City’s New Theatre in 2008, is not a major play for its writer Joe DiPietro, whose accolades include two Tony Awards for co-writing the Broadway musical Memphis and for writing Off Broadway’s longest-running musical revue in history: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. But it is heartwarming and funny with some captivating moments.
There are three central characters in the play. Ralph Bellini (Chet Carlin) is an 80-year old widower who lives an all too predictable life with his lonely and controlling sister Rose Tagliatelle (Kate Konigisor). Carol Reynolds (Rochelle Slovin) is the attractive older woman Ralph notices when he takes a different route on his daily walk into a dog park, even though he doesn’t have a dog or even like them. He attempts to woo Carol with his charm and flirtations, despite her initial resistance. The Young Man (Stephen Mir) is a younger version of Ralph, who almost became an opera singer at the Met, but fate had something else in mind. Oh, and not to forget Peaches, Carol’s Chihuahua, played by Roxy, a rescue, who has some impressive theater creds herself.
Carlin and Slovin play well off each other and seem quite genuine in their blossoming relationship. Carlin looks the age and the part and is very endearing as Ralph, a man who is trying hard not to let life pass him by. He takes a risk for the first time in years by attempting to start a relationship with Carol, as hard as it is to crack her cool exterior. DiPietro has not drawn him as a stereotypical elderly widower -- Ralph still has plenty of surprises up his sleeve.
Slovin has a long and active stage career and it shows in how comfortably she fits into the role of the somewhat mysterious, cool and collected Carol, who eventually warms up to the hard-to-resist Ralph -- after he finds the runaway Peaches. Attracted by Ralph’s love of opera, she decides to take a risk herself (she hates flying) and invites him on a trip to Italy to attend the renowned La Scala opera house in Milan. But a secret she’s keeping that’s uncovered by the jealous and possessive Rose thwarts the trip.
Rose isn’t particularly likable and Konigisor does a good job of capturing her naggy, manipulative persona, although her yelling gets a bit unnerving. A good Catholic, Rose is still married to -- and angry with -- her husband who left her 22 years earlier for another woman. But even Rose shows she’s capable of growth and change by the end of the play.
Mir adds a sense of whimsy and the magic of memories, as Ralph’s younger counterpart, appearing throughout the play in a formal black suit, singing his heart out with exquisitely executed snippets of Italian arias that bring a richer layer to the production. The very talented “Young Man” will be a senior this fall at Hart School of Music, earning his BFA in acting.
Maggie McGlone Jennings. who directs, is an Ivoryton Playhouse veteran actor and director, who has been involved in theater for almost 70 years. She brings out the play’s deeper messages about destiny and choices, loss, and family loyalty, and brings together a nicely rendered, enjoyable production.
William Russell Starks’ cheerful setting in the dog park with a bench in the foreground and silhouettes of trees in the background is enhanced by Tate R. Burmeister’s lighting that casts pretty shadows on the stage.
This Golden Years comedy will definitely win over an older audience but has enough humor and universality to also appeal to a younger set.
The Last Romance is at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, through May 10. Tickets are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org