Last Chance at Love is Not Just a Walk in the Park
By Lauren Yarger – Connecticut Arts Connection
When an 80-year-old man spots an attractive older woman at the local dog park, can the spark of romance be ignited in their lives, or is love just a dying ember?
Joe DiPietro’s funny and moving play The Last Romance gets a satisfying run at Ivoryton Playhouse, where the Tony-Award-winning playwright is a favorite: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and All Shook Up were both popular successes there and the musical Memphis, will play the Ivoryton stage in August.
For Ralph Bellini (a perfect Chet Carlin) it’s love at first sight when he sees beautiful Carol Reynolds (Rochelle Slovin who looks fabulous for her 70+ years) with her little Chihuahua mix, Peaches (Roxy, the understudy for “Bruiser” on the national tour of Legally Blonde owned by William Berloni and handled by Theresa Stark). The widower contrives to meet her at the dog park and tries to woo her with tails of his long-ago audition for the Metropolitan Opera. (The Hartt School’s Stephen Mir plays Ralph’s younger self in the octogenarian’s mind and in flashbacks, where he sings parts of great operas.)
Carol is reluctant at first, but soon is won over by Ralph’s charm. His controlling sister, Rose (Kate Konigisor) doesn’t think the romance is a good idea, however, and fears she won’t have a place in his life any more if he gets involved with Carol. Rose has been taking care of her brother (and controlling his life) since moving in after he had a memory lapse and was found wandering. Now, she keeps tabs on his every moment — it’s no wonder her estranged husband of 22 years left her for another woman. Adding to Rose’s angst is recent communication that her husband wants to divorce.
Carol plans to take Ralph to the famed La Scala opera house in Italy – a place he and his late wife dreamed of visiting – but Rose might throw a wrench in the plan. Will the couple be able to enjoy what both know is the last romance they ever will experience?
DiPietro gives us layered characters (excellently directed by Maggie McGlone Jennings). Carlin’s engaging personality instantly wins us over. He gives a top-notch performance as Chet struggles with mortality, unexpected feelings and responsibility toward his sister. Konigisor (the artistic director of Shakespeare with Benefits) isn’t afraid to show off her character’s offensive side – “Shuuuuut uuuuup,” she yells at the dogs in the park – but also brings out Rose’s vulnerability. Slovin, returning to the stage after 30 years as founding director of the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, is a bit stiff.
William Russell Stark designs the dog park, flanked on either side by sets for smaller scenes. Costume Designer Vickie Blake has Carol very elegantly dressed for a trip to the park.
The show comes together well with fully developed characters, the beautiful opera singing and DiPeitro’s humor woven throughout the moving story.
The Last Romance plays at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., through May 10. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday at 2 pm; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets: $42 for adults, $37 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children. (860) 767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
Regional Reviews by Zander Opper
The Last Romance
The Last Romance, Joe DiPietro’s bittersweet comedy-drama, is receiving a lovely and touching production at the Ivoryton Playhouse. With an excellent cast of four and supple direction by Maggie McGlone Jennings, The Last Romance tells a fanciful tale of an eighty-year-old man’s attempts at finding love later in life and what happens when he does meet a woman, in the park. Ralph is played by the terrific Chet Carlin and the object of his affection is the beautiful and luminous Rochelle Slovin, as Carol.
As these two actors enact this possible “last romance,” it is truly a thing of wonder, both in watching such skilled performers at work and in seeing how these two people try to make a connection that could drastically change their lives. With fine support by Kate Konigisor and Stephen Mir, The Last Romance goes from grand opera to a cute onstage dog as it spins its tale of the chance of love happening later in life. And while it is a somewhat slender play, it still proves to be a real pleasure and can certainly be recommended.
One of the privileges of this production is seeing such talented actors onstage. Chet Carlin brings a sly wit to the character of Ralph, as well as a vulnerable generosity of spirit. A masterstroke by the playwright is that he shows the audience Ralph as he was as a young man, played by the handsome and rich-voiced Stephen Mir.
In his youth, Ralph auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera, but, because of various misconnections, never succeed as an opera singer. Having Stephen Mir serenade the audience with arias from grand opera in between scenes adds a richness to the play. And the moments when both actors playing Ralph stand and speak together, with Stephen Mir representing the promise of what could be and Chet Carlin showing what has become of him, can be heart-stopping.
These moments only enhance the main story of how Ralph meets and attempts to romance the initially hesitant Carol, played by the lovely Rochelle Slovin. I would be loathe to give away what ultimately happens between these two characters, but there is a real joy in watching such experienced performers together onstage. Rochelle Slovin imbues her role with both a hard exterior and also a tenderness that can take your breath away. Chet Carlin matches her multi-faceted performance with a portrayal of a man slowly opening himself up to a happiness that could have passed him by. If nothing else, The Last Romance does a good job of exploring the story of a pair of lovers, both in the twilight of their lives, and dramatizing it with such warmth.
Still, there is much more to The Last Romance, including Ralph’s sister Rose, played by the amusing Kate Konigisor, who earns the biggest laughs in the play. Against a beautiful set by William Russell Stark, the production follows the romance between Ralph and Carol, then, whenever things start to feel little thin, the rich performances and director Maggie McGlone Jennings’s expertise add depth and pleasure. The Last Romance, by Joe DiPietro, is the perfect play for a lovely evening out and, considering its small cast, should be a natural for regional theatres everywhere.
The Last Romance continues performances at Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, CT through May 10, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at (860) 767-7318.
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