The season opener at One Thirty productions is touching, funny and warm-hearted. And how could The Last Romance be otherwise? It was written by Joe DiPietro, co-author of the hit musical I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, whose 2000-2003 marathon at Theatre Three made it the longest running live theater production in Dallas history (they still revive it every year).
Although Last Romance is not a musical, it does feature singing. The male lead is an opera fan, and we hear various arias. The music lover is Ralph, a lusty octogenarian living a bit too quietly in Hoboken. For no particular reason, he takes a new route on his daily walk and spots Carol. Ralph is of Italian descent, so you could say he was struck by the Thunderbolt.
Ralph and Carol begin a tentative sort-of courtship, to the dismay of Rose, Ralph's sister who has lived with him since his wife died 12 years earlier. Things progress with sweet predictability until DiPietro springs the first of several traps. The delicious twists are half the fun of Last Romance.
The other half is the uniform excellence of director Larry Randolph's cast. John Davies and Gene Raye Price belong to an elite squad of regional actors whose mere names sell tickets.
Davies endows Ralph with an authentic Joisy brogue and a sentimental soul. You like this guy, and you want him to find love. Price plays Carol like a fine fiddle, merging from feigned indignation at Ralph's first approach to awkward shyness to...well, let's not telegraph any twists.
Mary Lang, as Rose, creates a garden variety shrew in the early scenes. But Rose opens up in the second act, and Lang takes full advantage of the opportunity. Her anguished reading of a letter from her long-estranged husband is a brilliant piece of writing and character creation. And her scenes with Davies, ranging from thunderously angry to quiet and sisterly, are strong moments for both actors.
Tall, handsome and opera-schooled Will Whitmire provides the arias (a cappella, no less) that are sprinkled strategically throughout the action. He is particularly good in the scene in which he plays Ralph as a young man auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera.
So it's a pretty good theatrical package, right? But, wait, there's even a little dog in the cast. Her name is Irene, and she portrays a pooch named Peaches.
Cute? No, beyond cute. Positively awww-inspiring.