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)

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