Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ambition Facing West

Playwright: Anthony Clarvoe
VenueDairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, CO, 80302.
Running Time:  2 hours, 25 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance:  Saturday, October 18, 2014

We are a nation in motion.  
Approximately 12% of Americans change addresses annually.  If you ask how many moved to a new location in the last five years, the number jumps to 35%.  
There may be millions of reasons why so many people move, but it's not hard to identify the major one:  opportunity.  If we know that opportunity is the primary incentive to move, we also know something about those who move on.  They have ambition.  They are not satisfied to stay put when they have a chance to improve their lives.
Nowhere can you see the twin forces of opportunity and ambition operating as clearly as you will in Ambition Facing West, Anthony Clarvoe's epic tale of a family as it moves from Croatia to Wyoming to Japan.  While the multigenerational narrative starting in Croatia may seem remote and less than relevant at first glance, it is neither.  Rather, it's a story that we have all been brought up to admire.
Clarvoe doesn't sugar coat his story; the streets of America are clearly not paved in gold.  Working in a coal mine is still hard work in difficult conditions with poor pay.  The dream is always better than the reality.  
John Hauser (Young Stipan) and Adrian Egolf (Young Alma)
This is a stellar cast, doing a remarkable job with a challenging script.  The story telling is non-linear.  We fade between geographic locations during a time span of seventy (70) years.  The same character, for example, Stipan, is played by two actors, one the younger version (John Hauser), the other the older (Chris Kendall).  Likewise, Young Alma is played by Adrian Egolf, while Haley Johnson plays the Older Alma.  This cast can maintain a single consistent character through 70 years and two small feat.
All four actors in both these central roles are outstanding.  Egolf's Young Alma is the picture of innocence and naivete.  She is the beautiful, intelligent, obedient child of our dreams.  Her genuine curiosity about her roots and her young love interest (Jim, played by Benjamin Bonenfant) are the only signs of rebellion from an otherwise ideal daughter.  Egolf absolutely shines in all her scenes, but when she falls passionately in love with Jim, she discovers a part of herself she never knew existed.  It is a touching scene of innocence, love, and self discovery, and Egolf nails it.
Haley Johnson (Marija), Casey Andree (Father Luka), John Hauser (Young Stipan)
Haley Johnson, the adult Alma, carries a Zippo lighter with her, but not because of her smoking habit.  Rather, the Zippo was a gift from Jim, her now long lost first love.  Alma becomes a successful career woman, but she never forgets Jim.  Johnson is excellent as the adult version of Alma, no longer naive, no longer innocent, and no longer married.  She has a son, Joey (also played by Benjamin Bonenfant), and she passes the lighter along to Joey in a tender moment.  
He's confused; he doesn't smoke.  She explains it to him:
Alma:  "It's for remembering with."
Joey:  "Remembering what?"
Alma "Remember, O monks, that all this world is on fire."
Johnson's gift to her son is literally and figuratively brilliant; the torch is literally passed to a new generation.   It's a compelling, climactic scene as Alma grows from a detached adult to a compassionate mother.  Just like her younger Adrian Egolf version, Johnson as the adult Alma discovers a part of herself she didn't know about.  

Chris Kendall (Stipan, Alma's Father) and Karen LaMoureaux (Alma's Mother)
It is, though, perhaps Chris Kendall who gets the best roles here, as he plays Ivo Pasic, who recruits Croats to immigrate to America, and the adult Stipan, Alma's father.  Both roles are central to the story, and Kendall wastes no time bringing charm, wisdom, and occasional humor to both men.  Kendall has a keen sense of timing; his pauses are often as loaded with meaning as his lines.  His Ivo is a clever but dishonest character; as Alma's father, he glows, guiding Alma without giving her too much information about her heritage.  
Tina Anderson's set design is marvelous; the gravel pit gives the actors a rare opportunity to distinguish between locations simply by walking on a different surface.  The 17 white panels forming the backdrop make Andrew Metzroth's lighting design come alive.  Dialect coach Tamara Meneghini has made the cast into credible Croatians.     
There are so many great performances, and so many magical moments in Ambition Facing West, it's difficult to summarize them all here.  Simply said, this production is like a fine wine; everything works, and the experience electrifies the mind and the senses.  A sip will tantalize you, a whole bottle will intoxicate you.
The arc of Clarvoe's story is long and detailed.  He gives us a script that tells not one story, but thousands; every family that leaves its roots goes through a similar journey.  They lose what they left behind, in return for a new reality.  Whether that new reality is better than the one they left behind is debatable.  
What is not debatable is the human experience of deciding on a personal level how our lives must be lived.  There's no right or wrong here, only what we decide to do with our own opportunities, our own freedom, and our own lives.  Whether we leave our roots because we are drawn to opportunity, or stay in place because we are drawn to our traditions and families, there are always consequences to those decisions.  Ambition Facing West reminds us that, for better or worse, we control our own destiny.
As I mentioned above, we are a nation in motion.  Ambition Facing West is a dramatic, beautiful, engaging and relevant display of the people we were and the people we are.  It's a "wonderful story, wonderfully told," and it's the reason we go to the theater.  This is an excellent production of a powerful script, and it should NOT be missed.

This play is satisfactory for all ages.  That said, however, the non-linear script and the Croatian accents may cause those under 16 or so to start fidgeting early on.
This show closes on November 2, 2014. 

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
T⎮aco, 1175 Walnut Street, Boulder, 80302, turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.  We had planned to stop at the Walnut Brewery & Restaurant (practically next door to T⎮aco), but there was a 20 minute wait before seating.  Since we didn't have time to wait, we checked into T⎮aco, where we were seated immediately.  (They are probably accustomed to getting the overflow from the nearby brewpub.)  
What a marvelous surprise.  The service was fast, excellent, and competent.  The food was tasty; small soft tacos, excellent queso with the chips & salsa.  We tried three of the salsa choices, including the habanero and the chipotle.  The habanero is eye watering, sweat inducing HOT, the chipotle was delicious.  We will definitely go back.
Tickets HERE.

Creative Team:
Director:  Stephen Weitz
Scenic Designer:  Tina Anderson
Lighting Design:  Andrew Metzroth
Sound Design: Matthew Fischer

Costume Design:  Brenda King
Dialect Coach:  Tamara Meneghini
Dramaturg:  Heather A. Beasley, Ph.D.

Croatia, 1910:
Young Stipan:  John Hauser
Father Luka:  Casey Andreee
Marija, Stipan's Mother:  Haley Johnson
Ivo, the Amerikanac:  Chris Kendall
Miss Adamic:  Adrian Egolf
Mrs. Adamic:  Karen LaMoureaux

Wyoming, 1940's:
Young Alma:  Adrian Egolf
Josephina, Alma's Mother:  Karen LaMoureaux
Stipan, Alma's Father:  Chris Kendall
Jim:  Benjamin Bonenfant

Japan, 1980's:
Alma:  Haley Johnson

Joey, Alma's Son:  Benjamin Bonenfant
Eugene:  Casey Andree

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Playwright: Graham Farrow
Venue:  Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 East Cache La Poudre Street, Colorado Springs, CO, 80909.
Running Time:  90 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance:  Friday, October 17, 2014

This review contains adult subjects, adult language, profanity, and possible spoilers.  The profanity is not meant to be shocking or offensive.  Rather, it is to demonstrate and reinforce the tone of the script.
Rattlesnakes starts with a bang.  No.  Make that a BIG bang.  Three masked thugs ambush gigolo Robert McQueen (Oscar Robinson) in a seedy motel room.   The stage quickly descends into total chaos, as the three goons proceed to beat the crap out of McQueen.  They tie him to a chair and gag him, and proceed to begin the questions:  "are you fucking our wives?"
All three of them already know the answer.  Of course he's fucking their wives.  That's what he does.  It's a business...his business.  He has to feed his wife and  kids and pay the rent.  
To say that this first scene grabs your attention is to seriously understate the obvious.  There is absolutely no one in the audience who isn't totally engaged as the script turns from chaos into a taut drama about the reality and the fantasies in our relationships.  Farrow's script cleverly outlines the faults, the flaws, and the secrets men and women try to hide from each other.  For Farrow, it's a toxic brew that, if exposed, can only result in more chaos.
"More chaos" is exactly where these desperate and depraved characters take us.  Not to give away the story, but Rattlesnakes climaxes with as much chaos as it displays in the opening scene.  It's a chaos sandwich, if you will, with a lot of dramatic meat and colorful condiments in the middle.  It's a powerful script, and for the audience, a real punch in the gut.
Director Steve Emily has put together a suitably seedy motel room set for the action to play out.  No seat is more than a dozen or so feet from the stage, but Emily has choreographed the violence so well that even at close range it looks and feels real.  With some help from Dialect Coach Jillmarie Peterson, his cast comes off as truly venomous "rattlesnakes" disguised as genuinely British working class folks.
Oscar Robertson (Robert)
Oscar Robinson (Robert McQueen) is the hapless, helpless boy toy gigolo at the center of the action, and he is marvelous; like a Timex, he takes a beating and keeps on ticking.  His McQueen is a tough guy in a desperate situation, and he fights back with everything he has:  secrets.  He knows these goons, through their wives.  He knows their secrets, and he knows how to leverage those secrets for his own survival.
His tormenters (Dylan Mosley as Ritchie, Jonathan Andujar as Jamie, and Kyle Urban as Jed) are merciless but foolish.  They want revenge, but they also want answers to the central question:  why would their wives be fucking a lowlife prostitute?  It turns out that they can't actually handle those answers.
Dylan Mosley (Richie)
Mosley is the central goon, if you will, and he is probably the wisest of the three antagonists.  He listens with disbelief to the improbably frightening story McQueen tells him about his wife Shelly (LeAnne Carruth).  His wife could not possibly be the dominant, bitchy, voracious vixen stalker McQueen describes.  Mosley is not just skeptical;  he's incredulous.  He cannot process that his wife is the woman McQueen is describing.  It would be a colossal spoiler to say more; you'll have to buy a ticket to see whether Shelly is the wife Ritchie knows or the stalker McQueen describes.
LeAnne Carruth (Shelly)
LeAnne Carruth (Shelly) doesn't appear until the middle of the second act, but she steals the show.  She quickly establishes who she really is, and spills out her secrets to us.  It's a very impressive performance, one that is both sexy and frightening.  Needless to say, "sexy and frightening" are a volatile mix in a woman, and Carruth's performance makes the ensuing chaos as real as it is inevitable.
Rattlesnakes is one of those rare dramas that doesn't require you to sort out the good guys and the bad guys.  There are no good guys.  The script is a pretty cynical sketch of how totally empty our lives are, and how those lives can be destroyed by contact with the truth.  Although the script is somewhat contrived, I can't disagree with the central premise:  we all have secrets.  We all risk being found out, and we all risk the potentially catastrophic consequences of those secrets.  
Farrow offers no solution, no escape, from the truth.  Like matter contacting antimatter, all is utterly destroyed when the truth comes out.  
I fear he may be right.
Kyle Urban (Jed)
This play contains explicit sexual language, profanity, adult situations, graphic violence, and gunfire.  Not recommended for those under 16 years old.    
This show closes on October 26, 2014. 
Jonathan Andujar (Jamie)

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
There aren't any restaurants near the theater, so plan on about a 10-15 minute drive from downtown if you're dining before or after the show.  Phantom Canyon Brewery, the oldest (1993) brewpub in Colorado Springs. is located at 2 East Pikes Peak, across the street from the Antler's Hotel.  There is on street parking, and some paid lots nearby.  The beers are excellent (yes, there are some seasonable brews), and the food is reliably good pub grub.  My favorite:  the fish and chips. 

Photo CreditsSprings Ensemble Theatre
Tickets HERE.

Creative Team:
Director/Producer:  Steve Emily
Scenic Designer:  June Scott Barfield
Technical Director:  Mike Miller
Co-Producers: Keri Poilakoff, Jillmarie Peterson 
Lighting Design:  Jenny Maloney
Sound Design: David Plambeck, Max Ferfuson
Costume Design//Dialect Coach:  Jillmarie Peterson

Robert McQueen:  Oscar Robinson
Richie Hanson:  Dylan Mosley
Shelly Hanson:  LeAnne Carrouth
Jamie Jarrett:  Jonathan Andujar
Jed Ellis:  Kyle Urban

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Master Class

Playwright:  Terrance McNally
VenueThe Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, CO, 80302.
Running Time:  2 hours 20 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance:  Saturday, October 11, 2014

"I just want to sing."
For the gifted students in Maria Callas' master class, such a statement is simultaneously true and extremely naive.  To sing is not enough for Callas, and she Is brutally direct with her ill prepared and shrinking students.  Or, as Callas describes them, her "victims."  
In an effort to teach them how to be artists as well as singers, she intimidates them.  She insults them. She shames them.  The difference between a diva and a bully is imperceptible.
For those who haven't seen McNally's Master Class, consider the Maria Callas character a precursor to Simon Cowell of America's Got Talent and it's transatlantic cousin, Britain's Got Talent.  In a delicious irony, Cowell, he of no perceptible talent, doles out cringeworthy insults to aspiring artists who may actually accomplish something one day.  Callas, at least the one portrayed here in Master Class, may have been Cowell's inspiration; she certainly exhibited the profound narcissism that Cowell has embraced.
Callas' lesson for the students is that if one chooses artistic success as a goal, all other goals must evaporate.  Every detail, every note, every gesture, must be carefully and fully researched.  One must suffer for art, as she herself has done. 
Callas is correct.  Art requires extreme sacrifices and considerable suffering.  What she misses, though, is the paradox that she, the artist, inflicts additional suffering on her aspiring students, and does so gleefully.  Presumably, students in a master class are already well acquainted with the sacrifices they must make to succeed. 
Tammy L. Meneghini (Maria Callas).
Tammy L. Meneghini is a frightening, unapproachable, insufferable, and cold Callas.  In other words, she nails it.  She flits and swaggers across the stage, flaunting her success and her suffering for her art.  She can, and does, induce vomiting.  Meneghini even confronts the audience; patrons in the front rows will feel the sting of the glares, the stares, and the insults of La Davina.
Meneghini delicately balances the forces that consume Callas.  This master class is about Maria, not the students.  Callas does have a message here though, and Meneghini delivers it with eloquence:  art is not for the meek, and it does not come easily.  It is this balance of cruelty and profundity that Meneghini masters for us.  We see Callas, through Meneghini, as an artist and, to some extent, as a victim.  
Meneghini shows us the uncomfortable truth:  a successful artist is not necessarily a successful human being.  In fact, the two may be mutually exclusive. 
The test of a good teacher is whether the students are better or smarter for having been in the class.  Callas does not care whether she is a good teacher, or, for that matter, whether she has any effect whatsoever on those students.  As a result, her value as the "Master" of the Master Class is dubious at best.
McNally, though, through Callas, makes one additional important point:  artists should be paid fair value for their talent.  It's a point that all too often falls on deaf ears.
This Goddess Here production is strong.  Both sopranos (Ariana Gibbard and Phoenix Gayles) have exquisite voices.  It is annoying that they are constantly interrupted by Callas.  Graham's aria from Verdi's Macbeth is a show stopper, despite Callas' advice to lower her expectations after hearing it.  
It is Tony Candolino (James Baumgardner), though, who is the match for Callas in this Master Class.  Baumgardner combines a honey smooth tenor voice with the attitude to challenge La Divina's callousness (pun intended).  His rendition of "Recondita Armonia" from Puccini's Tosca is the musical high point of the play.  Baumgardner needs no coaching from a self absorbed diva.  His voice, and his interpretation of the music, are stellar.
Adam Ewing accompanies on the piano, but also does a superb job of playing along with Callas to her face, while sporting a mischievous smirk when she's not looking.  He provides a counter balance to Callas' onstage excesses, without saying a word about them.
For opera fans, Master Class may not contain enough opera to overcome Callas' quirky, jerky, side show.  For theater fans, though, Master Class is a poignant, provocative look at how theatrical sausage is made.  It's not a pretty sight, but the reality is that there are great sacrifices made to produce great art.  Master Class reminds us artists are human beings with incredible talent and passion.  That there are "victims" made daily in the process should not be forgotten.
Unfortunately, I was unable to see this show until the last weekend of its short run.  It's a pity; it's now too late for any reader to get a ticket.  Trust me, though.  Master Class was a small masterpiece of provocative theater.

This play contains explicit sexual language.  
The starving artist is not a myth; it's the cold hard reality for anyone chasing a dream in the arts.  Stephen Weitz, of the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, linked me to an excellent piece on this subject recently.  It's a disturbing commentary, and very relevant to this issue raised by Master ClassRead it here if you care about the current state of theater and the talent that makes it all work.
Master Class is a work of fiction.  Callas was apparently not the diva that McNally portrays here.  He has taken some artistic license with his subject.
This show closed on October 12, 2014. 

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
The Kitchen, 1039 Pearl Street, Boulder.  Located in the heart of the Pearl Street Mall, The Kitchen uses locally grown ingredients for it's unusual menu.  Located only a few minutes from the theater, it's one of Boulder's most popular upscale restaurants.

Photo CreditsGoddess Here Productions
Tickets HERE.

Creative Team:
Director:  Ami Dayan
Music Director:  Adam Ewing
Technical Director:  Craig Bushman
Producer: Deven Sheff
Lighting Design:  Jess Buttery
Projection Designer:  El Armstrong
Original Costume Design: Alice Matiosian
Costume Coordinator, Hair & Makeup:  Amanda Herrera
Original Wig Design:  Amanda Clark

Maria:  Tammy L. Meneghini
Manny Weinstock/Accompanist:  Adam Ewing
Sophie DePalma/Soprano 1:  Ariana Gibbard
Sharon Graham/Soprano 2:  Phoenix Gayles
Tony Candolino/Tenor:  James Baumgardner
Stagehand:  Craig Bushman

Friday, October 10, 2014


Playwright:  Steven Dietz (from the novel by Bram Stoker)
Venue:  SaGaJi Theatre, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, CO, 80903.
Running Time:  2 hours 25 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance:  Thursday, October 9, 2014 (Preview performance)

If you've got a pulse, Dracula would like to invite you to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.  "Enter freely and of your own will," as the Count would say.  He will make your blood run cold.  Run.  Cold. And he'd really like a taste...
Playwright Steven Dietz describes the title character of Bram Stoker's Dracula as a "brilliant, seductive, fanged beast waiting to suck the blood from your throat."  Make no mistake.  That very beast is now walking the stage at the Fine Arts Center, just in time for Halloween.
Stoker is the author of the 1897 gothic tale of the vampire of Translyvania, one of the most enduring and frightening stories ever.  Dietz brings Stoker's story to the stage with every gruesome detail intact.  I need not worry about spoilers here; Dracula is a familiar part of modern culture.  Dietz is faithful to the original plot, and the play is every bit as disturbing as the novel.
The Fine Arts Center gives Dracula a full throttle, no holds barred staging that, despite the familiar story, can still deliver a dose of shock and awe to even the bravest souls in the house.  It's not a spoiler to say that there will be blood...lots of it.  The Fine Arts Center is not afraid to literally put a stake through the heart of its evil characters, right before your eyes.
Matthew Radcliffe as Dracula.  Jessica Weaver as Mina.
Dracula features some excellent actors, attacking their roles with a sexy, lusty, bloodthirsty zeal.  
Michael Lee (Renfield) is convincingly crazy, and he's the focal point every time he is on the stage.  He rants, he raves, and he scares the daylights out of everyone in earshot.  Lee recently appeared in the zany comedy The Servant of Two Masters.   He is equally confident in both his comedy and Gothic vampire roles, which is an impressive range for any actor.
Katie Consamus (Lucy) brings her sexy swagger to Lucy, changing from a proper Victorian "lady" to a voracious, sexually aggressive vixen.  She is marvelous in both modes, but she practically smolders as the seductive, bloodthirsty Lucy.
Matt Radcliffe (Dracula) has somewhat less time on stage here that one might expect for a title character, but that doesn't diminish his complete domination of the stage when he appears.  He's a cool but complicated Dracula, a little less scary than one might expect, but a lot more human and real.  Radcliffe is on a roll; he was excellent recently in Art at the Springs Ensemble Theatre.  Dracula is another fine addition to his resumé.
Jessica Weaver (Mina) brings a sweet innocence to her character; of course, that's before she's corrupted by the Count.  She has what is probably the most striking scene in Dracula; she licks blood off the Count's bare chest.  It's a moment of striking power.  She is dominated by the Count, she thirsts for blood.  He gives it to her, and the result is simultaneously repugnant and sensual.  Weaver's performance sparkles; she is a perfect, if unfortunate, victim.
The set is beautiful.  It's a huge two story castle/asylum that is perfect in every gothic detail.  Set Designer Christopher L. Sheley takes us from Transylvania to England seamlessly.
The lighting design (Holly Anne Rawls) skillfully walks the line between the darkness of the story and the color and brilliance of the crimson blood lust on stage.  Sound designer Alex Ruhlin has cranked up the volume for Dracula.  This show is loud, and the impact is substantial.  In the second act, Ruhlin literally has Dracula's voice booming from all corners of the room; it's vampire surround sound.  Ruhlin raises sound design a notch here.  It's not just's an integral part of the story.
I do have a couple of quibbles with Dracula.  The SaGaJi Theatre is a big room, seating approximately 400 patrons.  The stage is also large, and for Dracula, the set seemed needlessly remote from the audience.  Most of the action is upstage, far from the audience.  That's unfortunate; Dracula has a lot of very intimate moments that are difficult to appreciate for those not in the front rows.  Director Nathan Halvorson had me squinting to see fangs dig into flesh (I was near the middle of the room).  A lot of action takes place around a bed at center stage; perhaps the bed could be moved downstage to be more visible.
In this preview performance, there seemed to be some distortion in the actors microphones; at times the dialog was muddled.  I'm not sure if it was a problem with volume levels or some other setting, but I was straining to understand about 20% of the lines.  It made parts of the story difficult to follow.
Quibbles aside, the audience was very enthusiastic; I even saw one couple sporting their own fangs.  The Fine Arts Center is known for it's excellent production values and high quality performances; Dracula definitely adds to that reputation.  For those who are seeking a high powered, well done Halloween treat, Dracula should definitely be on your "to do" list.
Due to graphic violence, this show is recommended (by the Fine Arts Center) for ages 16 and up.  I might go with 14 and up, given that kids that age have already seen a lot of gore in films and on television.
There's a dynamite 2 for 1 ticket offer...if you're willing to bleed out a pint.  If you give blood to the Penrose Bloodmobile (also known as the "Blood Vessel"), you get the 50% discount. 
Here's the Bloodmobile schedule:
  • 11a-3p Oct. 4 at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 1565 Briargate Boulevard.
  • 6-8p Oct. 10 at the FAC.
  • 11a-3p Oct. 19 on Tejon and Kiowa downtown.
  • 6-8p Oct 24 at the FAC.

This show closes on November 2, 2014. 

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
Jack Quinn's Alehouse & Pub, 21 S. Tejon Street, downtown Colorado Springs.  With a great variety of imported (read "UK") draft beers, Irish whiskeys, and reliably delicious pub food, you can't miss at JQ's.  We had to leave before Brian Clancy took the stage at 8:00 PM for his weekly concert of Irish folk songs.  For live Irish music, great pub food, and brewed/distilled beverages, JQ is your home away from home.  It's only a few minutes from the theater just north of downtown Colorado Springs.

Creative Team:
Director:  Nathan Halvorson
Producing Artistic Director: Scott RC Levy
Scenic Designer:  Christopher L. Sheley 
Lighting Design:  Holly Ann Rawls
Sound Design:  Alex Ruhlin
Costume Design:  Janson Fangio
Hair/Makeup/Blood Design:  Jonathan Eberhardt

Renfield:  Michael Lee
Mina:  Jessica Weaver
Lucy:  Katie Consamus
Harker:  Christian O'Shaughnessy
Seward:  Jason Lythgoe
Dracula:  Matt Radcliffe
Van Helsing:  Logan Ernstthal
Ensemble:  Karl Brevik, Crystal Carter, Kaetlyn Springer

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Last Romance

Playwright:  Joe DiPietro
Company:  The Creede Repertory Theatre
Venue:  The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada CO, 80003.
Running Time:  1 hour 20 minutes (no intermission).
Date of Performance:  Tuesday, September 30, 2014 (Opening night)

I hope it's not really the LAST Romance.  I didn't want this to end...there should be a million more romances like the one in The Last Romance.  It touching, it's poignant, it's romantic, and it's all wrapped around a dark secret.  It's everything a love story should be, and more.
Joe DePietro has an impressive resume that includes the Tony Award winning Memphis as well as I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.  His script for The Last Romance tells an intricate story of elderly friends Ralph (John S. Green) and Carol (Christy Brandt).  Ralph and Carol are strangers when they meet in the urban dog park they both frequent.  It turns out that they both have lost their spouses, and they are both afraid that they are doomed to loneliness for the rest of their lives.  
Ralph's sister Rose (Anne F. Butler) is a kind of surrogate wife to Ralph; she cooks, cleans, and keeps him out of trouble if he strays from home.  She is jealous that Ralph has found a female friend who threatens to replace Rose.  Ralph is 80, Carol is 79, and both have secrets they don't want to share with each other.  I won't reveal those secrets here, as that would spoil the experience for readers who decide to get a ticket for The Last Romance (and I hope that's all those who read this review).
A love story for octogenarians, The Last Romance tackles all the issues that come with relationships at an advanced age.  Recurring themes of loneliness, heartbreak, and secrets illustrate the baggage we all collect as we age.  Overcoming the baggage of a lifetime is a tall order, no matter how much we want love and companionship in our twilight years.  
Christy Brandt (Carol) and John S. Green (Ralph)
John S. Green is a vibrant, sassy, and charming Ralph. He's persistent, even when Carol would rather he just go away.  Green has that special something that makes him immediately lovable, and he keeps the charm level somewhere just short of irresistible.  And Carol resists.  
Christy Brandt cleverly plays the reticent Carol, showing some interest and some revulsion when a stranger approaches her in the dog park.  Brandt runs the gamut of emotions with Ralph, from annoyed and frustrated, and from mildly interested to loving him.  Brandt's performance is engaging; she takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride as she discovers something she thought she had lost forever.  Brandt's ability to rediscover love in her golden years is what makes The Last Romance work.  Her performance is beyond convincing; she pulls you into the story and she won't let you go.  
Anne F. Butler (Rose)
Anne F. Butler is as prickly as her character's name would imply (Rose); she is a concerned but frustrated caregiver for Ralph.  It is only near the end of the show that we understand why she has devoted her life to Ralph, and it's a heartbreaking moment.  
I should mention that Ralph is an opera fan, and that he once tried out for the Metropolitan Opera.  Sean Thompson (Young Man) plays the young Ralph.  His lines are all in Italian, and he sings those lines like a songbird.  Whether you're an opera fan or not, you will relish Thompson's time on stage in The Last Romance.  He alone is worth the price of admission.
Amanda Embry's set design is elegant and simple, but very functional.  Three reversible panels create the proper mood for the dog park exterior as well as the interiors of Carol and Ralph's homes.  
Director Christy Montour-Larson has put together an outstanding cast, and directed them with a delicate sensitivity.  There are two marvelous moments in the show that demonstrate Montour-Larson's skill.  The first is in the dog park. Ralph and Carol are sitting on the bench.  Despite her misgivings, Carol gets up the nerve to ask Ralph for a favor.  She asks him to hold her hand.  As Ralph eagerly complies, we see Carol's loneliness dissolve by a mere touch of the hand.  It's a very human moment, and Montour-Larson makes it real.  We sometimes forget how important simple physical contact with another can be, but this moment in The Last Romance brought it all back to me in a flood of memories.
The second marvelous moment comes in the final scene.  Carol, Ralph, and the Young Man sing to each other from an Italian opera.  I don't speak Italian, but I understood the final line, repeated several times:  "Ti amo."  I love you.  Montour-Larson blocks the three actors in a triangle.  It's a perfect and delicate moment, delivered by a skilled cast and a gifted director.
The Last Romance is a lot of things; it's a comedy, a love story, it's operatic, and ultimately gives us a tragic twist.  It will make you think about changing your routine and seizing the moment.  Life isn't over until you say it's over.  It's marvelous theater, done by a very talented company.  Catch it if you can.  You will be delighted and enlightened.
Cast selfie:  L-R.  Sean Thompson, Anne F. Butler, John S. Green, Christy Brandt, and Hercules.

In the interest of full disclosure, my life experience closely tracks some of the important issues in The Last Romance.  I've been a caregiver, and I've suffered great loss.  To some extent, I've been Ralph; I seized the opportunity for one last great romance.  My personal experiences are perhaps atypical, but I would hope not.  Whether you're in your teens or your 80s, The Last Romance is a great theater experience for all.
This is a great opportunity for Denver theater fans to see the Creede Repertory Theatre (CRT) without making a five hour drive through the mountains.  Founded in 1966 by twelve University of Kansas students, the CRT is a nationally recognized theater.  In 2005, USA Today ranked CRT as one of the “10 great places to see lights way off Broadway.”  The 2006 company received 11 Ovation nominations from the Denver Post.  In 2007, CRT was awarded the National Theatre Conference’s Award of Outstanding Achievement.  That's a very impressive track record, and The Last Romance is another jewel in the crown for CRT.
This show closes on October 26, 2014. 
Photo Credits:  Creede RepertoryTheatre
Tickets HERE.  

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
Silvi's Kitchen (formerly known as Udi's Bakery & Cafe) at 7600 Grandview in Arvada is great for baked goods, sandwiches, pizza, burgers, and some creative entrees.  The Mac & Cheese appetizer is splendid.  They feature several craft beers on draft.  It's only a few minutes drive from the theater.

Creative Team:
Director:  Christie Montour-Larson
Music Director:  Joe Montelione
Creede Artistic Director: Jessica Jackson
Arvada Center Artistic Producer:  Rod A. Lansberry
Scenic Designer:  Amanda Embry
Lighting Design:  Jacob Welch
Costume Design:  Anthony James Sirk

Carol Reynolds:  Christy Brandt
Ralph Bellini:  John S. Green
Rose Tagliatelle:  Anne F. Butler
Young Man:  Sean Thompson
Peaches:  Hercule Francois Jupiter de Buitleir (aka Hercules)