TR Robertson -Known as “San Diego County’s Biggest little theater”, Vista’s Broadway Theater, in Downtown Historic Vista, currently has on its stage a light-hearted comedy about companionship, connection, family, and finding love in unexpected places. “The Last Romance”, by Joe Di Pietro, also looks at aging and what may be our perceptions of relationships and the elderly falling in love, last seen at the Old Globe in San Diego in 2008.
Di Pietro is an award-winning playwright, lyricist and author. He won a Tony Award for the musical “Memphis”. Also on his resume is the off-Broadway production of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which ran for twelve years and the musical “Nice Work, If You Can Get It”. He also wrote the lyrics and book for the musical “Diane”.
Photos Provided by The Broadway Theater
“The Last Romance” involves the infatuation of 80-year-old New York widower Ralph, a former railroad employee and aspiring opera singer, his love interest socially distant Carol and Ralph’s possessive, nagging, overly concerned sister Rose. Ralph has seen and developed an interest in Carol after seeing her in a neighborhood dog park. He frequently visits the dog park, even though he doesn’t have a dog. Ralph strikes up an awkward conversation with Carol using his uneasy sarcastic humor to try and impress her. At first spurned, he slowly develops a relationship with Carol, finding she holds as many secrets as he does. He also discovers some of his main interests are not interests of Carol, such as Ralph’s love for opera. In several scenes in the play, we get flashback scenes of a young Ralph, singing various operatic numbers. As the play unfolds, the audience begins to find out more and more about Ralph and Carol and their past life and relationships. We learn it has been 12 years since Ralph’s wife died and he had a son who passed away. We also learn about Ralph’s love of opera, a story of his audition at the Metropolitan Opera Theatre and his dream of going to Italy and visiting the La Scala Opera House. We learn Carol has 2 children and 5 grandchildren that she doesn’t see very often because she has a fear of flying. We also learn Carol has a husband who has “died”, a key point that will play into the final moments of the play. All through the development of this relationship, a key element keeps emerging in the form of Ralph’s sister Rose. Ralph is all that Rose has. Ever since the death of Ralph’s wife, Ralph has been the constant companion of Rose. Rose has no children and her husband, Tony, “up and walked out on her” 22 years ago, but she continually gets letters from him, which she does not open. Rose is paranoid about where Ralph is, overly protective of losing him, especially now that another person has entered his life. Rose and Ralph’s family relationship will play a key element in the ending of the play, as does a secret Carol has that will affect Ralph and Carol’s relationship. The play does a wonderful job in looking at relationships and companionships, family connections, finding love in unexpected places, finding happiness, and making the most out of the time we have left in our lives.
The key to this performance is to find the right people to play these complex, emotional characters Di Pietro has in this play. The Broadway Theater co-owners, Randall Hickman and Douglas Davis, have found the right people. Veteran Regional theater performers Jim Clevenger as Ralph, Terri Park as Rose and Linda Englund as Carol bring theatrical experience, emotion, and tremendous energy to their roles. Clevenger presents the socially awkward Ralph with great stage presence, humor and skill as Ralph tries to negotiate the pitfalls of developing relationships. As his love interest, Carol, played by Linda Englund, Englund does an amazing job portraying Carol as at first aloof, emotionally hidden, and uncaring then as she begins to “fall for” the anticks and moderately aggressive overtures of Ralph. She presents Carol as someone who has kept her emotions in check but is now willing to let someone into her life. We begin to see these two vastly different personalities can be a perfect match and that romance is never too late.
Terri Park, who plays Ralph’s sister Rose, could not have been more perfect for her role. She presents Rose as a New York loud, possessive, emotionally jealous, overly protective, romantically “messed up” woman who has Ralph’s best interests as the center of her world. Park has a great “New York accent”. Also, in “The Last Romance” and performing at The Broadway Theater for the first time is Jordan Fan as Young Man/the younger Ralph. Fan has a wonderful operatic voice as he sings various portions from arias in Italian and looks great in his tuxedo.
One performer with tremendous stage presence that appears briefly at the beginning of Act II is Louie as Peaches, Carol’s missing pet dog. Louie’s owners are Doug and Randall.
“The Last Romance” will be at Vista’s The Broadway Theater in Downtown Historic Vista, on 340 East Broadway, until May 7th. Tickets can be purchased at www.broadwayvista.biz, or call 760-806-7905. To email with questions or asking about booking the theater for an organization gathering or a fundraiser email firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also ask about The Broadway Babies program as well.
As Ralph says in Act I, when he speaks to Carol about taking a chance, “You think you’ve got all the time in the world, then before you know it, times up.” Take the time to see this play, you will be treated to a tremendous performance and you will also want to take part in the Broadway Theater’s famous “Opportunity Drawing” for some of the most un-needed items on the face of the Earth. Next up for the theater is “Eleanor” by Marc St. Germain, on stage in August.