It's usually hard to make it convincing when even young lovers first meet in a “boy meets girl” romantic comedy, and logically should be a lot harder when the “boy” is 80 and the “girl” is 79! But Paul Smith (as Ralph Bellini) and Jane Hall (as Carol Reynolds) made it look easy, and soon had you rooting for them, in a charming Carpenter Square Theatre production of Joe DiPietro's “The Last Romance.”
Smith was engaging, peppy and optimistic (at his age he had to be) who “comes on” to Carol in the Hoboken, N.J., dog park and convinces her he has a dog, too (until he later confesses he doesn't).
But Smith also gave the role of the retired railroad man and widower, who lives with his sister, and once auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera, a touching “whistling (or in his case singing) in the dark” quality.
Echoing and adding to Smith's impact was that of Robby Ray as a “young man” who dresses like Ralph and we eventually realize is his younger self, serenading us with bits of romantic Italian operas.
Nearly stealing the show, however, was Hall with her at first matter-of-fact and skeptical but ultimately even-more-romantic-than-Ralph approach to the subject of December-December romance.
Bringing a feminine air of mystery to the part of Carol, who thinks she was responsible for her husband's stroke, Hall offered a fine counterpoint to Smith's more straightforward masculine acting style.
No less crucial to the geriatric love triangle was the performance of Vicki Wilcox as Ralph's “kid sister,” Rose, only in her mid-seventies! Wilcox found the comic qualities of her character and made Rose surprisingly sympathetic, as she clung to Ralph and the hope that her husband, who ran away 22 years before, will come back.
This despite the fact that Rose was in many ways a “sister from hell,” cooking and cleaning for Ralph, but also trying to control and keep him from finding happiness, with an almost perverse delight.
Wilcox will alternate in the role of Rose with Laurel Van Horn Jaworsky, as will Hall in the part of Carol with Kitty Fisher.
Witty, warmly appealing and briskly paced, with just enough surprises at the end, including a cameo by an actual dog, there was almost nothing not to like about Carpenter Square's “The Last Romance.”
Directed by Doobie Potter, with a set constructed by Caleb Schnackenberg, the production is highly recommended.
— John Brandenburg