Last Romance an affectionate look at second chances
Mayfield production benefits from comedic timing of stage veterans
Wednesday, Jul 02, 2014 06:00 am
In mulling over The Last Romance, now playing at Mayfield Dinner Theatre, you could say we are all fools for love.
New Jersey playwright Joe DiPietro takes us back to his native roots in this warm, sentimental comedy about a blooming romance between two people in their golden years.
This bittersweet, romantic comedy, interwoven with moments of bright laughter, explores the relationships between men and women, as well as the invisible family ties that bind our hearts tighter than any love affair.
The play centres on Ralph Bellini, 80, a retired railroad worker who once aspired to sing opera at the Metropolitan Opera Company. Instead, he got sidetracked into marriage, which for all intents and purposes was a happy union, until his wife died 12 years ago.
Ralph lives with his younger sister Rose, a possessive, non-stop nag who won’t let him out of her sight. Rose was once married but her husband left 22 years ago. A good Catholic who takes her vows seriously, Rose has never divorced. Deep in her heart, she fosters a hope he will return to her.
All her husband wants is a divorce. With every succeeding year that passes, his failure to return makes her more bitter and angry. Terrified of being alone, she clings to Ralph even more desperately.
Ralph likes to take a daily walk but on this particular day he takes a different path – one that leads him to the dog park. There he spots the mysterious Carol, a beautifully dressed woman who lives in a luxury skyscraper condo. Her only companion is Peaches, a shaggy little dog that looks like a throw rug.
Smitten by Carol, Ralph pours on the romantic charm, flirts and plays teasing games with her. Initially, Carol resists Ralph’s playfulness. But when Peaches disappears, Ralph spends two days searching for him and Carol sees that he genuinely cares.
Ralph has always been an opera buff, and in gratitude Carol offers to fly them to La Scala in Milan to see Pagliacci, a tragedy about a clown who murders his wife.
The duo’s love affair is in some ways like an opera – grand and larger than life. But life gets in the way. In an effort to kibosh the trip, Rose digs up some information about Carol to “protect” her brother.
Guest director Ron Ulrich (Tuesdays with Morrie) has captured the rich flavours of the play and elicits nuanced performances from all his actors.
Jamie Farr epitomizes Ralph in every way – a man grabbing his last chance at love with an electric energy that reveals the innate power of love. Farr’s Ralph stands tall, his walk has a kick to it and there’s a perpetual twinkle in his eye.
Ralph comes across as charming, persuasive and determined to make the most of his remaining time. But he is also an honourable man who lives by his own code of what is right and just.
Joan Gregson gradually reveals the two-pronged Carol, a prim and proper woman who is afraid of commitment. But by relaxing and removing the confines of propriety, she discovers a woman she never knew existed.
Maralyn Ryan plays Rose, possibly the play’s most complex character. Ryan captures every facet of Rose’s overbearing yet extremely vulnerable personality. In fact, she nails it.
And there is no one better at drawing laughs (except possibly Jamie Farr) with a perfectly timed deadpan delivery. In a park-bench setting, Rose tells Carol her brother is a good catch. The reason. “He can still drive at night.”
The fourth character in this production is Ralph’s younger alter ego, the once aspiring opera singer. Michael Nyby, a Canadian baritone with credits across the nation’s opera houses, vaults theatergoers into the world of Italian opera with choice bits that reinforce the characters’ passions and emotions.
The Last Romance is funny, sentimental and full of down-to-earth wisdom that encourages everyone to seize life with passion and commitment.