Tuesday, July 14, 2015

It's complicated

Summer Rep sizzles at MBT
by Christopher Key

Playwright Joe DiPietro probably didn’t have the Facebook cliché in mind when he wrote The Last Romance, but he truly captures the spirit behind it.  He understands that there is no such thing as a simple boy-meets-girl story.  It’s more like boy meets girl.  Boy lies to girl.  Girl lies right back.  And a romance is born.

The Last Romance opened Tuesday night to a full house at MBT’s Walton Theatre and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the time the lights faded.  There were tears of laughter and tears of sadness and DiPietro is a past master at evoking both.

The emotional power of the script and the intimacy of the Walton place enormous demands on the actors and director Beth Leonard has recruited three of Bellingham’s best along with a talented newcomer.

Photo credit - Damian Vines

Curt Simmons plays Ralph Bellini, whose opera career was nipped in the bud thanks to a missed phone call.  Simmons delivers an exquisitely nuanced performance that will make you want to see the show again just to catch what you might have missed the first time.

Photo credit - Damian Vines

He’s paired with Rep favorite Terry Sacks who could read the phone book and make you both laugh and cry.  She plays Carol Reynolds, a dog-lover Ralph meets in a Brooklyn park.  She’s alternately brittle, biting and bathetic, which results in simple brilliance.

Photo credit - Damian Vines

The widowed Ralph lives with his over-protective sister Rose.  Ubiquitous Bonnie Brennan Hollingsworth brings forth a heart-wrenching performance that will leave you goose-bumped.  Having reviewed many of her noteworthy performances, I’m convinced she could play Donald Trump and make him sympathetic.

That newcomer I mentioned is Jaron Boggs, who plays the young Ralph with a lovely voice that he uses to great effect.  His a cappella renditions of arias provide the incidental music for the production and Leonard’s staging of these interludes is stunning.

The show’s title refers to the romance that develops between the two seasoned citizens as they gradually uncover each other’s deceptions.  Quite frankly, both Simmons and Sacks look far too young and vital to be as old as they keep telling us they are.  Quite frankly, they’re both such terrific actors that you won’t notice for long.

But the real scene-stealer in the show is an adorable pooch named Peaches and we all know what W. C. Fields had to say about that.

DiPietro has the playwriting cojones to avoid any kind of hackneyed ending, either happy or sad.  Instead, he gives us and ending that is poignant, hopeful and lets the audience decide what happens next.  That may disappoint some who would hope for a final zinger or a final sob.  I find it delightful and bet you will, too.

Courtney Smith provides a simple set design that lets the actors focus on storytelling and Savannah LeCornu’s lighting design captures every mood.  As with any Rep series, all the techies are masterful.

The Last Romance plays in repertory with Jake’s Women and Other Desert Cities through August 9.  For a complete schedule, see the Mount Baker Theatre website.  You can order tickets there or by calling the box office at (360) 734-6080.

Did I mention that opening night was sold out?  A word to the wise…

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