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 Feb. 26, 2017
With four bravura performances in four complex roles, In Tandem's "Time Stands Still" is a modern day retelling reminiscent of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," watching two couples, their compromises and the way their lives gradually shred into nothing.
Published Feb. 25, 2017
War is hell. It was General William Tecumseh Sherman who said this famed phrase during the Civil War, and his words were never more eloquently or pointedly dramatized than in "Grounded," the George Brant play that opened at The Rep's Stiemke Studio.
Published Feb. 23, 2017
There seems to be no end to all the development activities taking place around Milwaukee. But I've got one small thing that everybody can do that will go a long way toward making Milwaukee more attractive. Let's pick up the litter on our expressways.
Published Feb. 21, 2017
"The Few," a play by the intriguing Stanley D. Hunter, debuts at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre this week with a killer cast, including James Ridge and Mary MacDonald Kerr. Also, The Pabst Theater welcomes The Four Tops, part of rock and roll royalty.
Published Feb. 19, 2017
Sometimes all you really need to do is laugh. Let me recommend the world premiere of "Robin Hood" currently underway at First Stage. Oh, there are messages in the show But what there is in abundance is good action and great laughs.
Published Feb. 18, 2017
The men are off to war; the women are left to weep. It has always been thus - unless you happen to be among the "Women of Troy," the translation of the 2,000-year-old play getting a new life under Dale Gutzman's direction at Off the Wall Theatre.
Published Feb. 17, 2017
It is altogether fitting and proper that Genesis 2017 was unveiled in the breathtaking beauty of the venerable Pabst Theater, as the 120-year-old structure hosted three brilliant young choreographers heralding a healthy future for the ballet world.
Published Feb. 16, 2017
Kathy Mykleby has found a spot in television built in the hearts of more than 1,700 children. Mykleby is the host/creator of the "Tuesday's Child" segments on WISN 12, a series that has run consistently for 26 years.
Published Feb. 15, 2017
Jerry Kelly, one of the most successful professional golfers ever to come out of Wisconsin, is the subject of a long story on the PGA Tour website. Kelly, who has spent 21 years on the tour, was a winner three times but described himself as a "successful journeyman" during his career.
Published Feb. 15, 2017
The answer is ... I don't know! The question is ... how did he do that? There are not enough superlatives to describe "The Illusionists," hit that opened a week-long run in Milwaukee at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts Tuesday night.