BWW Reviews: THE LAST ROMANCE Captures A Bittersweet Love Story Blossoming On A Dog Park Bench
Joe DiPietro's bittersweet romantic comedy THE LAST ROMANCE centers on 80-year-old widower Ralph (Scot Renfro), who once had ambitions to be an opera singer but got married instead. Since losing his wife 12 years ago, he has lived with his slightly younger sister Rose (Geraldine Fuentes) who is a possessive, relentless nag and manipulator, determined not to let Ralph out of her sight. Rose was married once but hasn't seen her husband since he left her for another woman 22 years ago, though as a good Catholic she never divorced him. Rose is nursing a vain hope that her husband will someday come back to her, and his failure to do so has left her angry, bitter, and more determined than ever to hold on to Ralph rather than face life alone.
One afternoon while out for a walk, Ralph spots attractive, white-haired Carol (Daryl Hogue France) at the local dog park, where she has brought her ratlike Chihuahua, Peaches. Ralph flirts, plays teasing games with Carol, and works hard to establish a relationship, despite her resistance. When Peaches runs away Ralph finds her, and Carol begins to melt toward him. Impressed with his love of opera, she invites him to accompany her on a trip to Italy and the fabled La Scala opera house.
Rose, threatened by Carol's competition, labors to put the kibosh on the trip, claiming all the while that she only wants to "protect" her brother from getting hurt. Ralph has a tough decision to make but decides to follow his heart. The bittersweet ending will have you wondering what if, but also understanding why things have to work out as they do in the end.
As the story unfolds, Matthew Ian Welch sings beautiful operatic arias during each scene break, often assisting Ralph with costume changes. The singer is really a younger Ralph on the day he auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, the most important day of his young life. Welch is an accomplished singer and his beautiful vocals allow us to comprehend Ralph's life-long love with opera, a theme that resonates throughout the play.
DiPrieto's play is affectionately written and deftly sketches the growing attraction between Ralph and Carol, providing some nicely observed character comedy. Perry Shields' deft direction keeps the action moving at a fast clip, with all four actors perfectly cast. Scot Renfro's Ralph is a prankster, loving a good joke or a white lie as long as it furthers his cause. But he wears his heart on his sleeve, and Renfro skillfully allows us to share in his wide range of emotions, all of which seem to flow from him effortlessly. His cute flirtations with Carol will warm your heart and drive women to the nearest dog park, hoping someone just like him will be there waiting.
Ralph's regular guy demeanor is a strong contrast to Daryl Hogue France's Carol, a well-dressed, sophisticated lady. Her hesitancy to get involved with Ralph would seem strange as he appears to be a perfect match for Carol. But it works because Ms. Hogue France allows her character to blossom at a natural pace, making their relationship seem all the more real. These two lonely souls are made for each other, giving them a second chance at romance.
But then there is Rose (Geraldine Fuentes), Ralph's overbearing sister who watches him like a hawk and does her best to end this blossoming romance. Ms. Fuentes shows both the love and bitterness in Rose's heart, and her great need to keep Ralph in her life. The two are the last living siblings from a large Italian family, and Renfro and Fuentes can argue with the best of them and their realistic portrayals will certainly remind you of members in your own family.
Making a brief appearance in the show, and stealing the scene much to the delight of the audience, is Hague France's real-life rescue dog, Ollie, taking on the role of Peaches.
While the play will defnitely appeal to the over 60 crowd, the universal need to find someone to share your life will certainly appeal to audiences of all ages.
THE LAST ROMANCE written by Joe DiPietro, directed by Perry Shields?, musical direction by Jim James T Hormel. Upcoming Performances at The Torrance Theatre Company, located at 1316 Cabrillo in Torrance, CA 90501:
May 30 at 8:00 pm
May 31 at 8:00 pm
June 1 at 2:00 pm
June 6 at 8:00 pm
June 7 at 8:00 pm
June 8 at 2:00 pm
Thursday June 12 at 8:00 pm (Followed by Q & A)
June 13 at 8:00 pm
June 14 at 8:00 pm
Please note there are no shows on Memorial Day weekend (May 23, 24, 25).
Scot Renfro and Daryl Hogue France
Geraldine Fuentes, Scot Renfro and Daryl Hogue France
Matthew Ian Welch
Daryl Hogue France and Scot Renfro
Scot Renfro and Geraldine Fuentes