Many of the love stories that dominate the silver screen focus on the starry-eyed entanglements of young individuals.
Stuart O’Steen, left, as Ralph, and Abigail Wright, as Carol, rehearse a scene for Viva Theater’s “The Last Romance” at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder on Nov. 9. The play opens Friday and runs through Nov. 20. (Jordan Bass/For Friday Mag)
But hormone-driven tales of lust usually pale in comparison to narratives about relationships that bloom in the later years, after life has delivered various curve balls and heartache.
In Viva Theater’s “The Last Romance” — running at the Dairy Arts Center Friday through Nov. 20 — two senior citizens meet randomly and, despite all odds, find common ground, understanding, trust and maybe a few sparks.
Maruta Kalnins, left, who plays Rose Tagliatelle and Stuart O’Steen, who plays Ralph Bellini in “The Last Romance” rehearse at the Dairy Arts Center on Nov. 9. (Jordan Bass/For Friday Mag)
The humorous and heartfelt production champions the importance of second chances and reminds viewers to never undermine the possibilities that can come when stopping to chat with a stranger on a bench at a city dog park.
“Viva Theater works hard to present quality theater and we are thrilled to be able to offer a live production of ‘The Last Romance,’” said Judy Richtel, co-president of Viva’s board of directors. “The past 18-plus months has been challenging and we were painfully disappointed when we had to cancel this show in the Spring of 2020.”
Stuart O’Steen, as Ralph, during a rehearsal for Viva Theater’s “The Last Romance” at the Dairy Arts Center. (Jordan Bass/For Friday Mag)
While some arts organizations turned to virtual options in the face of pandemic restrictions, Viva members waited patiently for a time when it was safe to gather and deliver an in-person show.
“We made the decision to not perform online since so many of our actors, volunteer staff and audience members are older adults who do not feel comfortable with technology,” Richtel said. “So, being back in the theater is a joy.”
While successful rehearsals have been under way, it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing for the cast and crew.
“Working with a theater company for senior members of the community comes with special hazards,” said Abigail Wright, who plays Carol. “Our beloved director, Jim (James) Carver, is almost 90 years old. He was hospitalized on Sunday night with a serious infection in his leg and may not get out in time to see the show. I suppose disasters can befall us at any age, but they do seem to accumulate with the decades.”
To not disappoint fans and actors, Viva is moving forward with the production that has already ben postponed from last year.
“I call to update Jim (Carver) every day on the progress of the show,” Wright said. “It’s his biggest concern. He is a real trooper.”
Carver was the artistic director of the Kalamazoo Civic Players — one of the country’s largest community theaters — for nearly 40 years. Since moving to Colorado in 1997, he’s been active in the area’s arts scene and would often travel for directing jobs in other parts of the country. Carver comes from a long line of theater folk.
From left, Stuart O’Steen, as Ralph, and Abigail Wright, as Carol, rehearse a scene for Viva Theater’s “The Last Romance” at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder on Nov. 9. The play opens Friday at 7 p.m. and runs through Nov. 20. (Jordan Bass/For Friday Mag)
“I wanted to work with Jim (Carver) again and it didn’t matter to me what the role was,” Wright said. “Jim is one of those old-fashioned theater people of whom it can be truthfully said that he was ‘born in a trunk.’ So, it’s fun to work with him. His theater stories are from a world that really doesn’t exist anymore and I treasure them.”
In Joe DiPietro’s play, widower Ralph Bellini — played by theater veteran Stuart O’Steen — wanders into a dog park and his eye is caught by the stylish and refined Carol Reynolds.
The pair’s chance encounter is definitely what some would classify as a “meet cute.” Ralph ventures back to the park to chat up and charm Carol, who seems to be slightly closed off to his notion of romancing her at first.
Ralph is a layered character with a deep love for opera and a longtime dream of becoming a successful opera singer. During the course of the play, he is visited by his younger singing self, played by Harris Armstrong.
Harris Armstrong, who plays a young version of Ralph in Viva Theater’s “The Last Romance,” rehearses at the Dairy Arts Center on Nov. 9. (Jordan Bass/For Friday Mag)
For Wright, a writer and documentary filmmaker who works for Miranda Productions, getting back on stage is providing her with the energetic jolt she craves.
“I do see myself in the characters I play, that’s the only way I know how to work,” Wright said. “In life, I am an introvert and was very shy and quiet as a child. Somehow I learned that I could put on a role — like a mask and explore more facets of myself — don’t we have many different characters living inside us? This kind of play helped me grow as a person, so I could function better in the world outside.”
While Wright has been in a number of plays throughout the years, the fright of being under spotlights never really diminishes until she delivers a line.
“It is still terrifying to be on stage,” Wright said. “Before a performance, I start wishing that I were anywhere else — or that the show would suddenly be canceled — or that we’d have nuclear war, things like that. Anything to not have to face going on stage. But, once I am on stage, I enjoy it. My experience of time changes, I can feel deeply and if the play is funny — like this one is — it’s just plain fun.”
Like Wright’s mantra of being scared and doing it anyway, the two main characters in “The Last Romance” are brave in their vulnerability.
The show begs the question, are you willing to veer from your routine and habits to perhaps flee from your comfort zone for a chance at finding something new and rewarding?
Tickets are $20-$25 and all attendees must be vaccinated.
“I’m hoping viewers will fall in love with live theater again,” Wright said. “We’ve been separated from each other too long.”
Lucy, a Chihuahua mix who plays Peaches, the dog of Carole in Viva Theater’s “The Last Romance” waits in the wings at a rehearsal at the Dairy Arts Center on Nov. 9. Lucy is a rescue and her guardian is Cathy Johnston. (Jordan Bass/For Friday Mag)
In addition to touting the power of a crush and coaxing out chuckles, the show will deliver scenes from real-life rescued Chihuahua mix Lucy, who plays Peaches — the dog of Carole.
Most relationships have haters that scoff from the sidelines and this love story’s naysayer can be found in Ralph’s grumpy younger sister Rose Tagliatelle, played by Maruta Kalnins — owner of Boulder shop Gypsy Jewel, who has performed in plays from Washington D.C. to Nepal.
“‘The Last Romance’ takes you on a roller coaster of emotions with its twists and turns,” said Sandy Hale, one of the original founders of Viva, who also sits on the board and has acted in numerous productions. “You laugh out loud one minute and feel close to tears the next. It is a lovely, endearing play.”
Hale is enthused to once again step into colorful roles.
“I look forward to being back on stage in upcoming Viva productions,” Hale said. “Where else could I have such fun, playing roles as different as Tallulah (‘Tallulah Finds Her Kitchen’) to Dorothy’s dog Toto to the famous prostitute in ‘Dude, It’s Boulder?’”
Abigail Wright, as Carol, and Stuart O’Steen, as Ralph, rehearse a scene for Viva Theater’s “The Last Romance” at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder on Nov. 9. (Jordan Bass/For Friday Mag)
Hale and other actors will have various opportunities to perform with Viva again in 2022.
“Next year, we are going to bring back smaller performances, taking shows to retirement communities, senior centers, other venues where older adults gather, live or to those who cannot get out to attend the theater,” Richtel said. “We plan to produce a show next fall with a large cast and involve those who are interested in acting and/or helping with a production.”
For now, audiences can revel in a production that highlights the importance of connection and hope. “The Last Romance” reminds us that it’s never too late to fall and fall hard.
“Love itself and its fantasies and happy endings are not the end of the story,” Wright said. “Love can push us — and everyone around us — to move further into the adventure of life. It has that power.”