The first question to ponder is whether great actors can lift a weak play into a satisfying night at the theater. The answer is yes, if the acting is truly outstanding.
The second question is whether a really good play can overcome weak acting to make a satisfying night at the theater. The answer to that is, unquestionably, "no."
And sadly, that’s what’s happening at The Boulevard Theatre where director Mark Bucher unveiled a shaky production of "The Last Romance," a romantic comedy written by Joe DiPietro about two senior citizens who fall in love.
The two characters, Ralph and Carol, meet at a dog park. He hits on her and she hesitatingly begins to meet him halfway in his quest. His wife died, her husband had a stroke. They take small steps toward each other, battling memories, histories, the aches and pains of old age and the possessive love of Ralph’s sister Rose, who lives with him and cooks his meals and does his wash and cleans his house.
They almost fall in love, but like all good stories, a giant roadblock appears and they go their separate ways. This play is funny and touching. Ralph has a lot of the funny lines and Michael Weber, who plays Ralph, has a bit of a knack for delivering the joke lines.
But other than that little part of the evening, that is just about all that the actors bring to this show.
The task of the actor is to give life to the words on the pages of the script. An actor is supposed to make an audience believe the words, be moved by them, to laugh, cry or shudder. This production has a young man named Doug Clemons who has a marvelous tenor. He is supposed to be the young Ralph, who wanted to be an opera singer and Clemons does a wonderful job with snippets of various arias.
But after him, we are left with an overwhelming feeling of what the heck happend to the play we thought we were going to see.
There is one moment toward the end of the play that best sums the bizarre problems created by actors who don’t seem to get it.
Rose and her brother are talking toward the end of the play and the written script leads Rose to say something and Ralph to shout at her, "Calm down. Calm down." You can be forgiven for shaking your head in wonder, because Rose never showed anything that even resembled behavior that would spawn a "calm down" plea.
Let’s take these characters one by one.
Rose is a character who demands some subtlety and some layers that both hide and reveal this weird relationship she has with her brother. Barbara Weber manages to turn her into a shrill simpleton. When they share a bench, she leans in and pushes her bosom into her brother. It kind of makes your skin creep.
Carol is a woman with a secret that makes her very wary of this strange man she met in a park. But we get no sense of anything from Domnitz other than a juvenile set of reactions that seem more appropriate to a 12-year old in a chat room with her friends than to a 65-year old mother of two daughters and grandmother to five kids. Somewhere in Carol there is a river of warmth and a fractured brittleness, but we see nothing like that from Domnitz.
Ralph, played by Weber, comes off more as a dolt who has suffered some kind of irreversible brain damage that turned him into a lecherous, sad, lonely and befuddled bobblehead. There is absolutely nothing interesting about Ralph, so we are left to wonder why in the world Domnitz would ever fall for him.
Another problem with this play is the casting. Neither Weber nor Domnitz look like they are in their 60’s. And in a space as intimate as the Boulevard, that becomes an incredible problem.
DiPietro wrote this play for Marion Ross, who played Mrs. Cunningham on "Happy Days and her husband." They toured extensively and the play got both popular attention and good critical reviews.
It makes you wish that some of the older actors in Milwaukee had been tapped for this production. There are a number of them who could have really brought this play to the place it deserves to be.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Dec. 5, 2013
'Tis the season to be jolly. But what does it mean for something ike a city or a county? What makes the Milwaukee family jolly or happy? As the old year leaves at the end of holiday season Dave Begel is trying to get a handle on what we need to be a happy place.
Published Dec. 3, 2013
Has football changed so much that when your starting quarterback goes down you might as well toss your chips on the felt and walk away from the table?
Published Nov. 30, 2013
Christmas stories need a moment to galvanize an audience and make the story a memorable one, maybe bring some tears and possibly make people think a little differently about the holiday. Something like George Bailey getting the money. Or when Santa proves to be the real thing in "Miracle on 34th Street." On that score - and on every other - "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" hits the mark.
Published Nov. 28, 2013
Thanksgiving is here, so here's some of what Dave Begel is thankful for, not just today, but most of the time.
Published Nov. 27, 2013
During Ryan Braun's news conference, he talked about how he wasn't going to get into specifics about what had happened and that he was only focused on moving forward. The problem with that answer to questions from reporters is that it makes Braun continue to look like he's a liar.
Published Nov. 26, 2013
I know this is the season when we are supposed to be thankful for stuff. And I want to play, too. I'm thankful this Green Bay Packers season is almost over and we can all get on with fixing things for next year.
Published Nov. 24, 2013
There are a lot of different things you can expect when you go to the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, but you would never expect this. A ballet. Right on the stage of the Quadracci Powerhouse. And with "Noises Off," a farce written by Michael Frayn and directed by KJ Sanchez, the Rep has staged a show that has everything that a great ballet has, except the music.
Published Nov. 24, 2013
A frequent pitfall for playwrights that write comedies is a temptation to wind things up at the end with some meaningful reform for the comics that turns them into serious human beings. Most often those attempts end up being sappy and sending an audience home with decidedly mixed feelings wondering whether they were supposed to be laughing all that time. Nothing like that plagues "Things Being What They Are."
Published Nov. 23, 2013
Go ahead and pick any adjective you want. Not one of them - or all of them - can possibly do justice to the glorious production of "Les Misérables" that opened Friday night at the Skylight Music Theatre. But blessed may come close for those lucky enough to see it. After it was over, I felt blessed.
Published Nov. 22, 2013
Writing a play is a difficult proposition just by itself. Then transferring the play from the page to the stage adds yet another layer of potential - and problems - to the process. All of this is important background information because Thursday night was the premiere of "The Old Garde," a play written by veteran Milwaukee journalist Bruce Murphy, and produced and directed by Mark Bucher at his Boulevard Theatre.