Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Joe DiPietro Returns to New Jersey with The Last Romance
New Jersey native Joe Dipietro returns to Hoboken, the setting for his smash hit comedy Across The River and Into The Woods, for his relatively recent (it premiered at San Diego's Old Globe in 2010) The Last Romance which is receiving its New Jersey premiere at Morristown Museum's Bickford Theatre.
The Last Romance is a warm and sentimental comedy about the blossoming of romance between octogenarian Ralph Bellini and septuagenarian Carol Reynolds, both of whom have lost their spouses. They meet when Ralph wanders into a dog run park where Carol brings her Chihuahua for exercise. Ralph, a retired railroad worker, is a bit of a wise guy with a prickly sense of humor who is smitten by the attractive Carol, a stylishly and expensively dressed retired executive secretary. At first, Ralph's forwardness and brash humor take the proper Carol aback, but Ralph is truly warm and witty and in short order, Carol succumbs to his charms.
The path of true love is not smooth. Ralph lives with his acerbic younger sister Rose whose husband left her 22 years ago. Before we even meet Carol, Rose finds and angrily admonishes Ralph at the dog run park for leaving "the house" without telling her. Rose mentions "something" that happened to him on "October 25th" that Ralph must not forget. It is something that later she will tell Ralph that, in fairness to Carol, he must share with her. Rose also tells Ralph that her friend Annette who lives in the same fancy apartment building as does Carol knows some dark things about Carol of which Ralph should be aware and beware. In all fairness, Rose cares for Ralph (in both senses of that word) and delights in cooking him his favorite dishes, and Ralph takes her for granted.
Ralph had ambitions of being an opera singer when he was a youth (had even once auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera) but, needing a steady income to support a family, he had very early on given up his dream. Carol is not interested in opera, but Ralph wants to take her out on a date to the opera. He is always talking to her opera and trying to arouse her interest in it. The central motif of The Last Romance is employment of Italian opera arias (and classical Italian songs) sung between scenes throughout the play by a "young man, his alter ego from days gone by.
Ralph and Carol's romance is an Italian opera in which the words are the music. Ralph tells Carol that every Italian opera has the same plot as does their relationship: "Two people fall in love, but life gets in the way."
J. C. Hoyt is the epitome of all the qualities with which Joe DiPietro has endowed Ralph. Hoyt fully captures Ralph's charm and his determination to make the most of his remaining days while adhering to what is fair and right. As Carol, Thea Ruth White demonstrates the happiness that Carol finds in removing the confining constraints of extreme propriety.
Noreen Farley captures all the facets of the play's most dimensional and complicated character, Rose Tagliatelle. And, as she has been demonstrating in New Jersey theatres for quite a while, no one is better than Farley at drawing laughs with a perfectly timed deadpan delivery. In this play, DiPietro has drawn a straight line from humor to pathos for Rose, and Farley nails it. Cory Singer brings a good voice and a strong presence to the role of the young man.
Director Eric Hafen has captured the rich flavors of the play as intended by the author. A small but instructive example is that it is clear that when Ralph cannot correctly remember the acronym ASPCA it is not because of any brain failure due to aging. It is simply Ralph making sport of Carol and her interest in dogs.
Here are a couple of examples of Joe DiPietro's humor:
And I want to share a bit of simple wisdom that put a tear in my eye:
The Last Romance is that funny, sentimental play about old people navigating new romantic situations that sophisticated theatergoers who, as a rule, find such plays anathema can enjoy. Yes, Ralph and Carol meet in a cutesy manner and the first act is a bit leisurely in advancing the story. However, DiPietro engages our emotions without ever being cloying and scores with considerable down to earth wisdom. His robust humor has wit and style, and derives from character.
The Last Romance performed through October 13, 2013, at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, New Jersey 07960, Box Office: 973-971-3706; online: www.bickfordtheatre.org.
The Last Romance by Joe DiPietro; directed by Eric Hafen