2014 News for Pawleys Island, Litchfield and Murrells Inlet
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Theater: Comedy opens new inlet stage with short run

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Divorced? Widowed? Living apart? Don’t dismay.

“The Last Romance,” written by Joe DiPietro, conjures up the possibility of a second chance at love in the golden years. The tender comedy opening next week at the newly-built Murrells Inlet Community Center mixes heartbreak with humor centering on three aging characters who desperately need each other in different ways.

Ralph (played by Nick Cianciatto) captivates as an elderly widower who lives with his slightly younger sister Rose (Patricia Dunning), a possessive, relentless nag and manipulator. Enter Carol (played by Holli “Heart” Fowler). Ralph meets the widowed Carol when he wanders into a dog run at the park where Carol brings her dog Peaches for exercise. Ralph, a retired railroad worker who once dreamed of being an opera star, is a bit of a wise guy with a prickly sense of humor who is smitten by the attractive and stylishly attired Carol. At first, Ralph’s forwardness and brash humor take the proper Carol aback, but Ralph is truly warm and witty and Carol eventually succumbs to his charms. The lonely and domineering Rose, however, is determined to hold on to her brother Ralph.

Says Rose to Carol, “My brother is quite a catch. He can still drive at night!”

The cast exudes talent.

Cianciatto is a native New Yorker who is a retired fireman and emergency nurse. He performed extensively in the New York area and toured performing interactive murder mysteries. He last appeared in the inlet theater’s production of “Black Tie.” He’s a natural for the part, according to his cast mates.

“I like playing an older character, there aren’t that many roles for older folks,” he said. “Older people can be lonely and it is nice to see them reconnecting, just like they did when they were younger. Oh, there’s a little sadness in this play, but that’s part of life.”

Dunning has been involved with acting since high school and continued performing in various plays and experimental productions during her tenure as professor of communications at the University of Pittsburgh. She is making her debut with the theater group.

“This is a character role, which I prefer; playing someone with substance,” Dunning said. “My biggest challenge is getting used to being on stage again after being away from it for a while.”

Fowler, a veteran of many theaters for over 25 years was last seen on the inlet stage in the one-woman play “Shirley Valentine.” Her most recent role was in “August: Osage County” at the Theater of the Republic. She was an instructor for the Children’s Theatre Workshop in Florence and a radio personality on the morning show “Heart and Walker in the Morning.”

She values her role because the story makes one take a look at life and realize the shortness of it. “Life can change in a moment,” Fowler said. “‘The Last Romance’ shows the value of family and relationships and the frailty of life. The message is serious, yet funny.”

Donna Catton-Johnson directs the threesome, plus canine Bella, making her debut as Peaches. Bella belongs to Fowler and was rescued from the Myrtle Beach Humane Society.

Catton-Johnson is also well qualified, having been involved with 90-plus theatrical productions since 1978 as an actor, director and costume designer. She holds a degree and teacher certification in both visual arts and theater and currently teaches art at Socastee Elementary. She also acts in the Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre at the House of Blues and recently began acting in short films in Wilmington, N.C.

Catton-Johnson said the play is loaded with laughs and will particularly appeal to the older crowd. “And to those who enjoy Italian opera.” Suade Anderson, a musician from Myrtle Beach, performs the arias via video screen. Cianciatto said he sings “just a little bit.”

The director’s challenge are the technical aspects of the production. “And all the kinks in dealing with a new facility,” Catton-Johnson said.

The kinks will be worked out, said Mike Bivona, president of Murrells Inlet Community Theater. The opening of “The Last Romance” was delayed a week and the run shortened to one weekend. But he promises cushioned seats and up-to-the-minute sound, lighting and projection systems. “And for the first time our actors will be miked,” he said.

The opening performance of the 2014-15 season is the first since May 2012 when the former community center was torn down. The new center has a seating capacity of 100, but tickets must now be reserved in advance, Bivona said.

“The Last Romance” runs Nov. 13-15 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 each and $10 for groups of 15 or more. Call 651-4152 to reserve seats.

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