The Last Romance opened at Little Colonel Playhouse Thursday night to a happy wined-and-dined crowd. It’s a romance of the older generation, but the characters are young at heart and filled with humor so the production will be entertaining for people of any age. It is a play about growing old, immigrant life, opera and dreams. The show is a bit sentimental at times; but there’s an earnestness and honesty to it that makes it worth watching.
The strength of the production is that the performers stayed grounded by refusing to play up the sentiment too much. The heartbreaks in this play are small, piercing ones – nothing grandiose or obvious – and the actors and the directors seem to understand this and allow the feelings to come out naturally without pushing for too much emotion.
The characters themselves are uniquely drawn Hoboken Italians. The central character Ralph (Howard Whitman) is a life-long romantic who once dreamed of singing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. Whitman does well to play up that romantic spark and charm of Ralph, though he misses some of the physicality that would make Ralph really come alive. Ralph is sensual, he loves opera, and he is emotional. If Whitman had found a way into some of these characteristics, it would have given more levels to Ralph and added interest. There is something slightly unpredictable about a character like Ralph, and this is what makes him attractive.
Sharon Cardwell, as Rose, seemed to capture the characteristic Jersey Italian more vividly in her performance but without stereotyping. She portrays Rose as a serious woman, well meaning but without a lot of humor. We can see that life has been hard on her and unfairly so. She’s rough around the edges, and veal scaloppini means a lot to her. These are aesthetic, sensitive people as sensual as they are old and grumpy. When Carol, Ralph’s love interest, comes into this world, she doesn’t fit into that picture. In contrast to Ralph and Rose, she is buttoned up and prim. There is a great contrast between the two actresses. As crotchety as Rose is, Carol, played by Grace Poganski, is equally measured and prim. The cultural divide between the two women was clearly drawn.
Because most of the action in The Last Romance is relatively still, the play relies on variations in the mood of the characters to keep us interested. There isn’t really a set per say, or very much action. But what could have moved it along more quickly would have been a deeper physical commitment on the part of the actors. The play did drag slightly during the first act, which takes place in the park. This had to do with the pacing of the performers. They seemed slow to pick up cues at times, and the rough urban pace was lost.
That being said, the play picked up a great deal in the second act, partially due to the variety of locations and the rise of the action. Simply put, more things happen in the second act. There were also some moving moments during these scenes, particularly between the two women, that felt truthful. In one scene, Carol and Rose confront each other over Carol’s intensions with Ralph. You get the feeling that these women will never be friendly but they are united by their mutual love for Ralph – one romantically, the other sisterly It’s a great quiet scene.
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner