BURLINGTON – Two misfits – the waitress Lina and the Italian immigrant busboy Roberto – have been working together seemingly forever in the same Italian restaurant. Although they have seldom spoken, there is an undeniable attraction. They have three opportunities to figure it out, each at a different time in their lives. Will they?
Vermont Stage opened a charming production of the oddball romantic comedy “The Last Wide Open” this week at the Main Street Landing Black Box Theatre. Thursday’s performance enjoyed its fine cast of two reverting to the screwball comedies of 1930s and ‘40s Hollywood – with a decidedly contemporary twist.
This is only the second production of this play with music. With book and lyrics by Audrey Cefaly and music by Matthew M. Nielson, the comedy premiered in January at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, where Vermont Stage Company founder Blake Robison has been artistic director since 2012.
The play’s unique structure is alluded to in the play’s complete title. “The Last Wide Open: A Love Song in Three Movements” is told in three segments, separated by folk-style songs: in the first, Roberto has been in the restaurant and the country for five years, and he and Lina, finding themselves alone in the dining room one, talk for the first time; in the second, Roberto has just come to the U.S. and barely speaks English, yet he and Lina find a way to communicate; and, in the final, some 10 years later, finds both married – unhappily – meeting together unexpectedly.
Lina wants to be a nurse and is marrying Todd, though she has very little good to say about him. Roberto isn’t having such good luck with his girlfriend Anna in Italy either. Of course, they figure it out – but oh what fun along the way.
Directed by Jamien Forrest, Vermont Stage’s general manager, Charlotte Munson and Jordan Gullikson are well cast as Lina and Roberto, and seemed to have great fun in this gentle battle of the sexes. Although Munson hid any vulnerability to the very end, she proved a witty and feisty Gina. (She also was quite a fine singer.)
Gullikson presented a more dimensional and sympathetic Roberto, from meek to tender to angry to loving, but always irresistible. Most importantly, their interaction was natural, convincing and very funny.
Vermont Stage has benefited greatly from its move to the Burlington Waterfront, with much fewer limitations than FlynnSpace, its longtime home. Designer Jeff Modereger took advantage of the malleable space to create an attractive and decidedly Italian restaurant interior (and exterior), dramatically lit by Joe Cabrera. Rébecca Lafon devised the novel quick-change costumes, and Dylan Friedman’s sound design underscored the stage activity including some particularly dramatic moments.
Vermont Stage’s “The Last Wide Open” is a happy return to screwball romantic comedies of yesteryear.