Billed as “a heartwarming boy-meets-girl comedy with one unique difference, the boy and girl are senior citizens,” The Last Romance might cause some theatre-goers, especially younger ones, to quickly put it last on their list of things to see. However, that would be a mistake because beneath the simple-sounding premise, author Joe DiPietro has crafted an intricate character study, focusing on love and companionship that offers something for all ages.
Opening the 2011-2012 season, DiPietro’s play receives a first-class staging at Dunwoody’s Stage Door Players under the direction of Justin T. Anderson and a group of remarkable actors. Set Designer Chuck Welcome has designed an inviting park with autumn leaves, which serves as the location of most scenes.
The park is actually a dog park that Ralph (Frank Roberts) discovered on a walk. Ralph does not have a dog himself, but he returns to hopefully catch Carol (Joanna Daniel) who he saw there with her dog Peaches (the delightful Chica) the previous day. Reluctant at first, Carol opens up to the persistent man who proclaims to her, “You’re just the most beautiful woman I’ve seen in years.”
A running theme through the show is Ralph’s love of opera, and he uses it in several instances to provide insight into his views of life and love. To complement Ralph’s love of opera, Stephen McCool, credited as the Young Man, sings operatic arias during some scene changes and at several key moments of the play.
Together, Roberts and Daniel shine on stage. It’s definitely hard not to smile watching them interact. While the focus of the story is on the relationship between Ralph and Carol, the play also explores Ralph’s relationship with his sister Rose (Pat Bell). The two live together, and Rose does her best to take care of her brother. Early on, she lets her disdain for the budding romance known. As cleverly played by Bell, Rose is what you call a scene stealer.
Rose’s nagging to Ralph and her irritation with the dogs in the park create humorous moments throughout the show. Bell delivers her lines so matter-of-factly, such as when Rose tells Carol that her brother is a “very good catch” because “he can still drive at night,” that they fill the audience with laughter. But, it’s her solo scene where she reads a letter from her estranged husband that pulls her performance full circle. The emotional depth that Bell brings to Rose is awe-inspiring.
The hopes and struggles of Ralph, Carol and Rose are ultimately ageless. Sure, the age and life experience of the characters is important for many plot considerations, but at its heart, the story could just as easily be told with three thirty-somethings. DiPietro’s story reminds us that everyone wants to find love, but often “life gets in the way.”
Entertaining and honest, The Last Romance provides an insightful look at the desire that is in all of us to feel loved and needed. The play runs through October 16 at Stage Door Players located in the North Dekalb Cultural Arts Center. For tickets and more information, please visit www.stagedoorplayers.net.
– A. Wesley