There's something to be said for a playwright who knows how to please an audience. You'd think most would get that right off the bat. But writers aren't necessarily about giving an audience what it wants. Some give the audience what it should want. Still others give the audience precisely what it hates. The brilliant ones in this last category — Caryl Churchill or Samuel Beckett for instance — can make an audience grateful, ennobled even, for having served up an evening of previously unwelcome elements.
That group would not include Joe DiPietro, a playwright who can score a bull's eye figuring out his audience's wants and expectations. A few years ago, he wrote a comedy called Over the River and Through the Woods, about a young man trying desperately to please his very senior Italian grandparents. It wouldn't surprise me to learn it was the most produced summer-stock comedy of the last few years: Everybody did it.
And if it works once, why not try it again? DiPietro is back with The Last Romance, now on stage at Little Lake Theatre. This time, it's about a very senior Italian brother and sister, and what happens when the brother — after years of living with his sister — falls for a woman from over the way.
To be honest, it's hokum from beginning to end. I mean, the climax of the first act is when a dog escapes through a hole in the fence.
But it's DiPietro's play, nobody else's, and he's writing specifically what his audience wants: sweet characters caught up in a bit of trouble, with cute lines and a heartwarming ending.
Wayne Brinda directs a nicely paced production for Little Lake Theatre, giving the sentimental tone of the piece the focus it needs without overemphasizing it. Carol Lauck and Bill Bennett, as the newfound paramours, play with a deft touch, and Martha Bell gives a strong performance as the sister.
Given that he's done exactly what he set out to do, DiPietro may be the most artistically successful playwright of all time: Little Lake's, after all, is one of no less than three local productions of the play this summer. It's that "what he set out to do" part which might need rethinking.