Home > Carol Davis, Theatre > Globe’s ‘Last Romance’ a sweet-heart deal for Ross and Michael

Globe’s ‘Last Romance’ a sweet-heart deal for Ross and Michael

Marian Ross Patricia Conolly and Paul Michael in "The Last Romance" at the Globe (Photo:Craig Schwartz)

By Carol Davis  

Carol Davis

SAN DIEGO– It’s no secret that Marion Ross and Paul Michael are an item. They have been together for 22 years now. But how wonderful is it that, among other things, they can play opposite each other in Joe Dipietro’s  (I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change, co-writer for Tony winning Memphis and All Shook Up) newly minted work (written just for them), The Last Romance?

Ross (Mrs. C on Happy Days and Sally Fields’ mother in Brother’s and Sisters) has been associated with The Old Globe since ‘the ‘Craig Noel’ early days of the 1940’s when she made her Globe debut in Ladies in Retirement.

She and Noel had a special relationship over the years and she spoke lovingly and with humor of him at the recent memorial for Noel. She and Michael last shared the stage together in Over The River and Through the Woods in 2000 again at The Globe. Michael, a star in his own right, has appeared on Broadway numerous times.

The Last Romance is a valentine for Ross. It is both charming and telling. I know this is stretching the memory for some, but remember the radio soap The Romance of Helen Trent and the announcer blurbs out, “Can love come to a woman of 35?” Yes Helen, it can come to women of all ages and as for Carol (Marion Ross) in The Last Romance it came when she was in her 70’s. So there ya go.

Both Ross and Michael had some input into the overall look of the play, if you will. Their likes, interests and hobbies are pretty much written into the dialogue, her love of dogs and his of opera, and that makes the play even more personal; that’s what sells. It just naturally suits them to a tee and fits like a glove.

Set designer Alexander Dodge sets the tone with red and gold autumn leaves hanging from tree branches above and scattered over the theatre’s arena stage. Most of what happens takes place in a doggie park on a park bench where the two share, reach out and grow.

Ralph Bellini (Michael) is a widower and Carol Reynolds (Ross) not quite widowed (her husband had a stroke four years ago and is on life support but she refuses to pull the plug) meet in a nearby park. It’s not so much by accident that it’s the very same park Carol lets her newly acquired pooch, Peaches run amok, but more by design after Ralph sees her there one day on his walk. 

It seems that Ralph, who goes out for a daily stroll decided to change his route this day and head to the doggie park instead. After being tracked down by his sister Rose (Patricia Conolly) and scolded for not letting her know were he was going (he’s eighty) and a long interrogation of why he came here instead of his usual hunting grounds, she goes off with the promise he will follow shortly. The two live together.

Carol then shows up in the park with her dog Peaches. He’s smitten at once, she’s aloof but he’s determined to get to know her no matter what. Time is of the essence for both. They are no youngsters and there is no time for games. But when Carol holds back, Ralph jumps in with both feet. “Do you like opera?” begins Ralph. “Have we met?” she coyly retorts.

And so it begins. For the next two or so hours we find out that she is a retired executive secretary (that’s apparently why she is impeccably dressed) and loves dogs and he is a retired railroad man (he’s now wearing his new Eddie Bauer sport shirt to impress) who once had an audition with the Metropolitan Opera. He loves to kid around, something Carol finds a bit offensive at first.

They continue to meet in the park and get to know each other, becoming a little friendlier and divulging more and more about each other. But things aren’t always as they seem even for these two seniors who have seen their share of happy times and tragic times. Two thorns keep digging into them like stickers they cannot remove.

Ralph’s sister Rose, his one and only surviving family member isn’t keen on Ralph’s choice of Carol. “Ralph’s a good man. He has his faults-but…I see you spending more and more time with him. And you’d be doing me a big favor if you didn’t.”  She looks after her brother and takes care of him more like a wife than a sister and she and is jealous of anyone who might take her place. “She’s the only family I got left. What are you gonna do?” asks Ralph.

On the other hand, Carol’s in limbo because her husband is neither here nor there in her life.  She can’t get on with her life until that issue is resolved and she refuses to do anything about his situation. She’s also concerned that if she does get involved with Ralph, he may up and die on her. “What if you die?” she asks.

Watching Carol and Ralph navigate through the minefields of starting anew is a tricky business but with Ross and Michael at the helm it sails without a hitch. Ross is stylishly coifed when we first meet her dressed to the nines (Charlotte Devaux), gloves and all. Watching her go from cold to coy to lukewarm to all smiles when she’s with Ralph is the sign of a seasoned actress who knows her audience and circumstances well.

Patricia Conolly has all the right gestures as Rose, Ralph’s devoted sister. Lonely and abandoned by her own husband as a younger woman, some twenty years earlier she keeps herself busy looking after, cooking, cleaning and caring for her brother almost to a fault.

Michael’s Ralph is charming, down to earth, and salt of the earth and a sincere romantic. Even the interplay with his overbearing sister is more tender than thorny. His love of life, love of opera and his yearning for a second chance at love is true to form.

An added fourth character The Young Man (Joshua Jeremiah) as a younger Ralph, singing selected arias as the story moves along, adds another dimension to this otherwise satisfying and lovely play. Jeremiah, who has a powerful and full baritone voice, breaks into aria about five or six times (highlighted by Chris Rynne’s spot on lighting) throughout the evening starting with a selection from “Mattinata” by Leoncavalla to Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” to “Pagliacci”. It was glorious.

With Richard Seer’s gentle but straight forward direction and Joe DiPietro’s lovely yet bittersweet play, The Last Romance is the frosting on the cake for those of us whose total number of birthday candles are enough to empty a box and cover the entire top. It is just the beginning of what can be if we let it happen, or so they are saying.  Seers gentle prodding of these octogenarians makes it look so easy. They may as well be in their thirties.

The Last Romance gives hope to our aging generation. It has just the right ingredients for a play about second chances and growing older gracefully but realistically, devoid of sentimentality but loaded with humor, and that’s what makes the world go round and this play worth seeing.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: July 30th-September12th

Organization: Old Globe Theatre

Phone: 619-234-5623

Production Type: Romantic Comedy

Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park

Ticket Prices: $29.00-$62.00

Web: theoldglobe.org

Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre

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Theatre critic Davis is based in San Diego

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