The Last Romance
Also see Bill's review of A Midsummer Night's Dream
It shouldn't surprise that Mr. DiPietro's work evokes such a reaction, as he's the author of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, a musical revue about dating and relationships that ran Off-Broadway for more than 5000 performances over the span of twelve years. Mr. DiPietro, who is also a Tony Award winner for co-writing the musical Memphis, has great experience tugging on the heart strings while portraying the chaff and grist of ordinary relationships.
In The Last Romance, now in its West Coast premiere at the Old Globe Theatre, he tackles the sensitive subject of love late in life. Ralph (Paul Michael) breaks his usual routine one day and in the process spots Carol (Marion Ross) exercising her dog in the local dog park. Impressed by the elegant Carol, Ralph decides to pursue her, much to the disapproval of Rose, Ralph's sister (Patricia Conolly), who lives with him and finds satisfaction in caring for him.
Carol is resistant, but Ralph isn't going to take no for an answer. It turns out that they're both somewhat old fashioned: Carol, who was an executive secretary, insists on wearing a nice dress and heels to walk her dog, so Ralph starts to come to the dog park in a coat and tie (Charlotte Devaux dressed the cast quite nicely). As they talk, bits and pieces of their lives come out: Ralph loves opera and in his youth auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera (singer Joshua Jeremiah plays Ralph as a young man and provides lovely musical transitions between scenes). Carol has never seen an opera, but she spent a good deal of time caring for her husband, who was disabled by a stroke. "It's what you do," says Carol while discussing the situation, evoking one of many "aw" reactions from the audience.
Of course, Ralph, Carol and Rose all have secrets, and the play happens as those secrets are revealed. But Mr. DiPietro's point seems to be that love and romance can find people late in life, and the audience is more than willing to play along.
The "aw" moments are played to perfection by the fine cast under Richard Seer's direction, though Ms. Ross and Mr. Michael, who are longtime partners offstage, display so much chemistry from the start that it is clear Carol won't be able to resist Ralph's charms. Ms. Conolly's character could have been shrill and shrewish, but she manages to make Rose's disapproval sympathetic. Mr. Jeremiah sings his arias sensitively in a well supported baritone and earns his bravos at the curtain call.
Alexander Dodge's simple set design uses colorful autumn leaves to evoke both the dog park and the play's theme. Chris Rynne's lighting design and Paul Peterson's sound design add just the right touches.
With so many plays portraying relational dysfunction (and the Old Globe will be staging the queen of such plays, August: Osage County, in 2011), it is most satisfying to enjoy a story about a relationship that works. All together now: "Aw."
The Old Globe presents The Last Romance by Joe DiPietro through September 12, 2010 at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre on the Old Globe campus, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. Tickets ($29 - $62) are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE or by visiting the Old Globe's website.Directed by Richard Seer, with Alexander Dodge (Scenic Design), Charlotte Devaux (Costume Design), Chris Rynne (Lighting Design), Paul Peterson (Sound Design) and Lavinia Henley (Stage Manager).
With Marion Ross (Carol), Paul Michael (Ralph), Patricia Conolly (Rose) and Joshua Jeremiah (The Young Man).
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