Between the time you experience the first symptoms of advancing age and the time those symptoms become your reality is probably not the time to start a new romance. It’s too complicated. Do you want to tell him/her about this problem or that malfunction? Or do you let it happen and then beg forgiveness?
The answer to those questions you never want to address is answered with great affection and understanding in Joe DiPietro’s romantic comedy, The Last Romance, playing now on the Stark Stage at Riverside Theatre.
For those who don’t know, DiPietro is a successful playwright whose first produced work was I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, that ran Off Broadway for 12 years, second only to The Fantastiks. He is also responsible for the 2010 Tony Award-winning musical, Memphis, which played here at Riverside in 2015. He is credited with many more, but this is about his ode to love over 65, The Last Romance.
I don’t want to give away too many of the surprises that await you in this seemingly simple, but heartwarming story of a lonely 80-year old man and the woman he meets at a dog park. (The first surprise is he doesn’t own a dog).
He is an opera lover and once had an opportunity to try out at New York’s Metropolitan Opera as a young man. Although it was a momentary dream come true in his life it lives on in this play with numerous vignette performances, some with piano, most a cappella, by his youthful doppelgänger, played to perfection by Colten Blair. In fact, every time he sang throughout the play, his performances met with applause.
The play opens with the old man, Ralph (P.J. Benjamin), waiting in a dog park for an unnamed someone when a woman named Rose (Andrea Gallo) comes to tell him dinner is ready, so come home. He says he will come shortly and she leaves, but that is when his potential love interest, Carol, (Louisa Flaningam) arrives with her tiny dog, a Chihuahua mix named Peaches. He “comes on” to her and the punch lines begin. Well actually, the punch lines began with Rose.
The plot expands from there as a relationship begins to develop. After intermission, it gets complicated.
I’m going to stop there because my primary purpose is encouraging you to see The Last Romance for yourself. It is a sweet story and clearly appealed to the audience, many of whom were in the characters’ age group or on the cusp of it. There are so many funny lines, but the one that triggered the greatest laughter was when Ralph was described as “a real catch, he even drives at night.” Maybe it was nervous laughter?
But the play has serious moments too, ones where you could hear a pin drop in the theater. The audience was totally drawn into the story.
With only four performers, everyone has a starring role. In fact, the two would-be lovers, Ralph and Carol, are a real life man and wife (Benjamin and Flaningam).
The performances and stage work are, as always, Riverside Theatre quality. You will not be disappointed. The Last Romance is playing through February 24. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 772-231-6990 or online at www.riversidetheatre.com.