Front Row Center
By Michael Warren
The Last Romance
By Joe DiPietro
Directed by Ann Swiston
The Last Romance is a bittersweet comedy by Joe DiPietro, who is best known for the Tony Award-winning musical Memphis, as well as writing the book and lyrics for the long-running off-Broadway show I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Last season Ann Swiston successfully directed Over The River And Through The Woods by the same author, a sentimental Italian family play also set in New Jersey.
The central figure in the story is “Ralph Bellini” who is an 80-year-old widower living with his slightly younger sister “Rose.” One day Ralph decides to take a walk in the local dog-park. There he meets “Carol Reynolds,” an attractive white-haired lady, and her little Chihuahua “Peaches.” Kenneth Bridges plays Ralph with just the right mixture of Italian machismo and gentle humor. The author gives him some entertaining lines, as he attempts to draw Carol out of her shell, and his performance was much appreciated by the audience. Candace Luciano is excellent as Carol, whom she portrays as shy and reserved while gradually warming to Ralph’s charm. As they get to know each other, he reveals that in his youth he was a talented opera singer and once tried out for the Met. They actually called him back for a second audition, but somehow he never got the telephone message.
Meanwhile, Rose is clinging and possessive and doesn’t want to let Ralph out of her sight. Peggy Lord Chilton does a wonderful job with this fussy and unsympathetic role – evidently Rose was married once but hasn’t seen her husband since he left her for another woman 22 years ago. All three actors are entirely believable and live within the skin of their characters. I should also mention Ken Yakiwchuk who provides a cameo appearance as a younger Ralph singing some magnificent arias – the music by Verdi, Mozart, Leoncavallo and others is a special and very enjoyable feature of the play.
The ending is totally implausible and not in the least romantic. Carol (who must be wealthy) buys tickets for Ralph and herself to fly over to Italy, and go to the opera at La Scala in Milan. This is Ralph’s dream trip, but his manipulative sister does her best to prevent it, in Ralph’s best interest of course. It turns out that Carol’s husband, who had a stroke some years ago, is still alive albeit on life support and kept alive by machines. This destroys Ralph’s idea of a proposal of marriage and a contented old age with Carol, and as a result he stays home rather than take the trip of a lifetime. Not exactly a happy ending, except perhaps for Rose.
Overall, it was a charming evening and director Ann Swiston has succeeded (once again) in bringing a deftly written DiPietro play to the LLT stage, with excellent acting and music. The minimalist set was effective, and Peaches was on her best behavior and perfectly cast as Herself. Congratulations also to all involved backstage, including Win McIntosh (Stage Manager) and Sandy Jakubek (Assistant Stage Manager) – it was professionally done and a bright start to the season.
Next up is Bedtime Stories, a comedy directed by Roseann Wilshere, opening on October 3 and running through October 12. Expect some verbal fireworks!