Everyone eventually has a meeting with death, but in Richard Romano’s new play, “Famous Last Words,” the main character, Mark Houghton, gets the opportunity to engage the grim reaper in conversation.
“Things are a bit adversarial at first, but Mark does become friends with death,” said Romano, whose play is being given its first full-scale theatrical production at the Colonial Little Theatre in Johnstown beginning Friday night and running for two weekends. “Death teaches him how to get the most out of the time he has left.”
Death, the character, is played by Rotterdam native and Schalmont High grad Jarred Aldi. Tony Yates plays Mark, and Cheryl Charbonneau is the director.
“Famous Last Words” was a major success at the Colonial Little Theatre’s New Play Festival in 2012. It is a “buddy comedy” according to Romano, who is a writer/reporter for the online graphics magazine WhatTheyThink.com.
He concedes that his foray into the playwriting world did not begin in the most productive manner.
’Famous Last Words’
WHERE: Colonial Little Theatre, 1 Colonial Court, Johnstown
WHEN: Opens at 7 p.m. Friday and runs through June 22; performance times are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $12
MORE INFO: 762-4325, www.coloniallittletheatre.org
“I spent an entire night once checking Wikipedia to figure out what happened to the actors on ‘The Brady Bunch,’ ” said Romano. “I thought, ‘well that was a productive use of my time.’ This was four or five years ago, I was in my early 40s, and at that age you shouldn’t fritter away your time like that. I thought, ‘if I had just six months to live, I wouldn’t spend an entire night wasting my time like that.”
In his play, the character of Mark is a middle-aged man who, in Romano’s words, hasn’t accomplished a whole lot in his life.
“He hasn’t done much, and he suddenly learns that he only has six months to live,” said Romano. “And when he gets back home, Death is sitting there in his living room waiting for him. It’s a comedy. They become friends.”
None of the other characters in the play can actually see “Death,” as Romano uses a theatrical tool seen in his favorite movie, “Harvey.” In that film, the main character, Elwood P. Dowd, played by Jimmy Stewart, is the only one who sees a 6-foot rabbit called Harvey. For Aldi, the opportunity to participate in that kind of setup was too good to pass up.
“I think the premise is great,” said Aldi, “and I really like playing ‘Death.’ He’s sarcastic, he’s witty. He really helps Mark, a guy who is not living up to his potential, deal with the last months of his life. But it is a comedy, and I think it’s hysterical.”
Aldi, who has performed previously with the Colonial Little Theatre in “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Seussical: The Movie,” was introduced to “Famous Last Words” at the 2012 New Play Festival.
“I saw it when they did it two years ago and I loved it,” he said. “After listening to the staged reading, I am thrilled that I got the opportunity to be a part of this production. I’m having a great time.”
Romano is even more thrilled to watch his written material performed on stage.
“I’ve been to a couple of rehearsals, but I haven’t really made any changes at this point,” he said. “I think they would yell at me if I did. In the future maybe we will tweak it a bit more.
“Like Leonardo DaVinci said, ‘art is never finished, it’s just abandoned.’ But it’s been great fun, and listening to the stage reading was helpful. Sometimes you can see how a line was clunky and didn’t work, or how a speech went on for too long. But to see it up there on stage is amazing. This whole experience has been very exciting.”
Romano was born in Brooklyn, raised in suburban New Hampshire, and went to Syracuse University to learn screenwriting. He lived in New York City for a while before moving to Saratoga Springs in 2000.
“I had a friend who was living in Saratoga and I used to come visit,” he said. “I fell in love with it. Because of the Internet I realized I could live wherever I wanted to, and I chose Saratoga. That’s how much I liked it.”
“Famous Last Words” isn’t Romano’s first play, but it is his first published work.
“My first play had a cast of millions and thousands of sets,” he said, laughing. “It was almost uncastable, and couldn’t be staged for less than $5 million. I was a rookie. Now I have a sense of what works and what doesn’t. I discovered that when you write a play there are limitations, so I had to learn to simplify things.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or email@example.com.