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      AN INSIDER'S VIEW by Kathryn Sheneman

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      On an ordinary day, a man takes a different path that leads him to an unexpected second chance for romantic love. In The Last Romance (TLR), playwright Joe DiPietro has written a terrific romantic comedy; something we can all warm to. DiPietro wrote the play as an 80th birthday gift for Marion Ross, the actress we fondly remember as Marion Cunningham on Happy Days. Marion and her husband Paul Michael performed the play at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park in San Diego. And the play has since enthralled audiences in theaters all over the US. Under the direction of Thomas Putnam, TLR will present six live, in-person, well-precautioned performances the weekends of May 7 and 14 at the Warehouse Theater.(May 7 is "vaccinated only.")


      So often, scripts about anyone over the age of 50 seem condescending in tone, portraying older persons as eccentric or cute. DiPietro writes well for older persons and gives the characters more fullness, more substance perhaps. TLR salutes the magnitude of passion two people can experience, clasping hands, gazing dreamily. A sense of joy in each moment is what characterizes TLR. It shows us the transformative power of love.

      TLR is set in Hoboken, New Jersey.

      Ralph, or Rafael Bellini, 80, played by Gary Fizzano, a widower the last twelve years, is a veteran of the railroad, but once aspired to be an opera singer. He is an antic figure; mischievous and flirtatious. He spots Carol Reynolds (played by me, Kathryn Sheneman) one day at the local dog park. Despite her staunch resistance to Ralph’s relentless flirting and teasing games, Carol, with her own secrets and challenges, softens and then gives herself over to exuberant desire for romance.


      According to the DiPietro, “Marion (Ross) has such a warm persona, I thought it’d be interesting to write a character that is the opposite of Marion. So, Carol starts off the play as cold and suspicious and damaged in some ways. And through the course of the show, she learns to open up and enjoy herself and take an adventure she never thought she could or would.”

      Rose Tagliatelle, Ralph’s sister played by Anne Acker, is at once edgy and irresistible. Her overprotectiveness of Ralph borders on jealousy and her efforts to drive away competition. Stuck in nursing the vain hope that her estranged husband will come back to her, Rose’s bitter cynicism also softens and transforms her over the course of the play. Rose and Carol each transform from their rigid all-fear, all-resistance stances to becoming more open, observing, and more compassionate to others and to themselves.

      And more! The atmosphere in this play is surrounded by Italian opera music. Choice excerpts of several operas are performed beautifully and hauntingly by Mansfield University graduating senior, tenor John Tobey, who lends his considerable vocal gifts to Ralph’s opera singing younger self.

      As expected, Thomas Putnam is staging this play expertly and deftly, eliciting nuanced performances from each of us.

      TLR is a beautifully written play, offering much hilarity before knocking you back. It is warmhearted, funny, and touching TLR is a full meal.

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