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The Last Romance touches SAT audiences

Attempt at love in life's declining years tugs at theatergoers' heartstrings


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ROD STROH - CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ROD STROH Ralph, played by Jim Bumgardner, pleads with his sister, Rose, played by Berta Limbaugh, to go home and stop interfering in his budding romance with Carol, portrayed by Lexy Dillon, not pictured.

CRITICAL REVIEW

There’s a lot more than meets the eye in the latest production from the Sandy Actors Theatre Company.

In “The Last Romance” by Joe DiPietro, we watch as seniors hovering around the 80th milestone of life try to regain the feelings of love they once experienced with their former spouses.

This story is a heart-warming comedy about the transformative power of love. But the relationships are not simple, and as the layers are peeled off, the audience begins to see complications in each relationship.

This adeptly-directed performance has the qualities associated with director Dalene Young, whose 50-plus years on stage show in the way this moving story is portrayed.

There are only four human characters, and one of those (Ryan Fenster) appears only as an image of Ralph Bellini’s former (younger) self. Fenster’s portrayal, often musical, often in perfect Italian, is enthusiastic and does not distract from the timely story.

The only other character has no speaking parts, except off-stage barking. He is Brutus, a Chihuahua who plays Peaches, Carol Reynolds’ companion in life.

Carol, staged by Lexy Dillon, is the woman Ralph falls for when he sees her while taking a walk in a New Jersey dog park.

Dillon touches hearts as she learns to move from an emotionally closed “widow” to a woman with the freedom to try new things and take another chance on love.

But it is DiPietro’s deftly-written script that aids her performance, especially her transition to freedom and the way she exposes her heart as she reads a letter in the final scene.

Ralph, an 83-year-old Italian played by Jim Bumgardner, is a widower who makes it a habit to tell a few white lies, and Carol initially accuses him of “coming on” to her.

It is Bumgardner’s poignant staging of Ralph — even his brief singing of Italian opera — that moves this play to the top of our “must see” list.

Rose Tagliatelle, acted by longtime SAT performer Berta Limbaugh, has spent her life taking care of men — including Ralph, her brother, with whom she shares a home.

But with Ralph, Rose is overprotective — to the point of nagging — and especially irritating to Ralph is Rose’s attempt to keep him from proposing marriage to Carol.

Limbaugh keeps this story moving and shows her acting skills as the middle-person, trying to prevent a meltdown for her beloved brother.

A slight distraction was caused by Ralph’s voice, which lost its volume at the end of a few lines. But his portrayal of the character was humorous, tear-jerking and joyous — all in the same act.

Audiences will have to wait until the final scene for resolution in each person’s life, where even Rose feels liberated from a life of keeping house for her “men.”

The three-part set, brilliantly arranged by Jim Lamproe and managed by Alisa Phipps, does not require stagehands to move props in the dark while the audience anxiously awaits the next scene.

And Ian Phipps’ sound effects are well-placed, with perfect timing.

This night of escape from the fast-paced lives many local residents lead is a welcome treat, and the quality of this performance puts it in a class with any big-city stage.