CONWAY — Theater patrons looking for a touch of romance for Valentine’s Day need look no further than The Lantern Theatre in downtown Conway.
The Conway Community Arts Association and The Lantern will present The Last Romance, a tale of love in the “golden years,” beginning Feb. 14. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14, 15, 21 and 22; and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 16 and 23.
The Last Romance is by the American playwright and New Jersey native Joe DiPietro. The play was performed at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 2010 after its debut at Kansas City’s New Theatre in 2008.
The local production stars three veteran actors — Len Schlientz as Ralph, an 80-year-old widower looking for love; Sherry Norrell as 79-year-old Carol, who is Ralph’s potential love interest; and Liz Parker as Rose, Ralph’s 77-year-old overbearing sister. The production also features Juan Garcia of Rogers, a vocal performance major at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, who appears as “The Young Man” and performs Italian arias throughout the play.
Cindy Romeo is the director, and Angel Moix is the stage manager.
“This play is a bittersweet romantic comedy,” said Romeo, 50, currently a member-at-large of the CCAA Board of Directors, as well as a past president. She directed the Late Night show The Laramie Project, in 2013. In 2012, she directed the Main Stage production of Driving Miss Daisy and the children’s show Snow White. She last appeared in Hats! The Musical in 2013.
“One of our board members, Trent Reese, read the play and brought it to us,” Romero said of The Last Romance. “We passed it around, and we all loved it. It’s just perfect for our first Main Stage production of 2014.
“It’s about three people — a brother and sister and a possible love interest for the brother,” Romero said. “They are all in their later years. It centers around the very real fright of being alone in the last years of life.”
Schlientz, 68, plays the part of the brother, Ralph.
“I love the play,” he said. “The character is very real to me. I fell in love with it the very first time I read it.
“These are real people,” Schlientz said about the play’s characters.
Schlientz most recently appeared in Amateurs in 2013 at The Lantern. In 2010, he appeared in Tuesdays With Morrie and was recognized by the board with the Excellence in Acting Award.
Schlientz works for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the Standardized Patient Program, in which he portrays patients with certain symptoms or illnesses so medical students can “practice” their skills.
“I play the ingénue love interest in the play,” Norrell, 56, said with a laugh. “I meet Ralph in a dog park where I take my dog, Peaches, every day. Ralph has taken a
different path on his daily walk and sees me. He comes back the next day to meet me. We are immediately smitten.”
Norrell, who teaches reading at Ida Burns Elementary School in Conway, last appeared in Hats! The Musical, a CCAA production directed by Parker. She and Parker have been friends for many years, each singing with now-defunct local women’s singing group Vintage.
Parker, 61, said her character, Rose, “is not the least bit happy about this romance. I know a secret about Carol and want to tell Ralph, but I don’t. He finds out anyway.
“I am afraid if he leaves with Carol, I won’t have anyone to take care of.”
Parker, who is the business manager for the UCA Theatre, said she has not appeared on stage in “at least 15 years.” She has, however, been active with the community-theater organization, directing several of its latest productions, including A … My Name is Alice in 2010, Secrets of a Soccer Mom in 2012 and Hats! The Musical in 2013.
Garcia, 21, sings the part of “The Young Man,” who is a reflection of Ralph in his younger years. Ralph had always wanted to become an opera singer and had applied to audition for the Metropolitan Opera but never got the call. That scenario is part of several mysteries that are part of The Last Romance.
Garcia, a baritone, sings, among others, an aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and an aria from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.
Tickets to The Last Romance will go on sale Monday. Tickets are $12 each and may be purchased by email at email@example.com. Season tickets are also available at www.conwayarts.org.
Since The Last Romance takes place in a dog park and talks about the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, patrons are asked to bring dog and/or cat food to the show to be donated to the Conway Animal Shelter.