Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Last Romance
Also see Richard's review of Anything Goes
The Last Romance is a tightly constructed little family/relationship comedy from Joe DiPietro, one of the most successful, and even admirable, theater writers in America. It has a pleasant flare of stagecraft in the dream-self for Ralph as a young man, played by the baritone Clark Sturdevant, recalling his youth, some 60 years gone by. Mr. Sturdevant sings beautifully, and actually deserved a lot more applause than he got on the first Sunday matinee at the Kranzberg Arts Center.
On a (presumably) different topic, however, there's also an air of calculation in the plotting of The Last Romance, and in the presence of that memory-self. And maybe the concept of a "Dream Laurey" was just not innovative enough for the typical septuagenarian/octogenarian Sunday afternoon crowd. But thanks to director Alan Knoll, everyone rises above all that with unstoppable verve and authenticity.
There's an unexpectedly fine performance from Insight Theatre's Artistic Director Maggie Ryan as Mr. Joplin's sister Rose. And, though we should abjure any production staffer who casts themself in their own play, Ms. Ryan's time on stage is beautifully spent, especially in a scene where we learn about her own failed romance. (We shouldn't be surprised: she's an Equity performer, andas far as I knowthis is her first time casting herself.) And it turns out she's perfect, a bubbly Irish actress playing a hard-nosed Italian spinster.
Tommy Nolan is excellent as Carol, the object of Ralph's wily overtures. A steady, anguished theme of her character, and of the entire play, is that this is the "last chance" for any of them, at love (Rose is the youngest, at 77). And these highly polished performers carry it off seamlessly. But it's a theme that feels intentionally short-sightedthere are so many twists and turns in every romance, I don't know how anyone could possibly say it's their "last chance," or even that any particular romance has the dimensionality to provide basic nutrients for a healthy emotional life, even if it does last into the December of one's own years.
But what an unromantic thing to say. The play seems to speak the same sort of "stage Italian" as John Patrick Shanley's film Moonstruck, from 1987, even in its operatic subplot. You can't damn the play for that, thougheven English theater was mad about Italy during Shakespeare's time. And, 400 years later, "stage Italian" still seems to be the most potent language of love there is.
The Last Romance, through March 18, 2018, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Ave., St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.insighttheatrecompany.com.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association