3.5 out of 4 stars
A 2017 Jeff Award Winner for Best Solo Performance, Rose by Laurence Leamer returns to Greenhouse Theater Center. Based on never-before-heard interviews, Leamer examines America’s “royalty” in a truly moving and compelling way that will shift any pre-existing perceptions of the Kennedys. Laurence Leamer is a distinguished biographer, award-winning journalist and historian who has written 14 books including a number of best sellers. Leamer’s wide exposure to the world through his journalistic work and volunteer work with Peace Corps, his perception and context of America’s “royalty” is compelling. His trilogy on the Kennedys – The Kennedy Women, The Kennedy Men and Sons of Camelot- were all New York Times best sellers. Rose is Leamer’s first play.
Set in 1969, Rose Kennedy is being interviewed for her memoir. Rose recounts her own childhood, her marriage to Joseph P. Kennedy and creating her own family. Meanwhile, these trips down memory lane are interrupted by the telephone, which serves to bring the audience back to the “present day” of 1969 and that current state of the Kennedy children. This retrospective written structure by Leamer makes the play ebb and flow just like the waves on the Connecticut seashore. It mimics the ups and downs Rose has experienced through her own life now being described in a stately living room. The design of the space by Kevin Hagan is truly an homage to the past. Under a Victorian patterned rug, tables spill over with photographs from throughout the family’s history and chairs are placed in each area creating a blocking diamond formation which is often found in single narrations, dramatic interpretations and speeches. The perfect way to complement Leamer’s written structure. Cat Wilson’s lighting design was so incredibly subtle that it flowed well with the visual and auditory emotional waves the audience experiences alongside the main character. Cues of faded spots during moments of grief and transitions from cross room blocking never pulled you out of the story.
Under the direction of Steve Scott, producer of Goodman Theatre, Linda Reiter reprises her role as matriarch Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy in this intimate portrait. Reiter conveys such a reserved depth of Rose Kennedy and toes the line between zealous pride and quiet reflection. Reiter hones in on the aspect of Rose’s sacrifice of personal happiness for the sake of faith and duty. The compromises of a woman focused on encouraging her children while navigating a fractured marriage to a man who says “America is my family”. The use of projection was well placed through the stories of Rose’s children and family. The photographs show upstage on a white wall for only a few moments and each one alotted a certain amount of time. This technique makes a connection between the photo and the audience - the shorter the time shown the less weight the image will have upon the audience, thus when it comes to making an impactful point it will be obvious due to the amount of time shown. Wonderfully, done! A refreshing instance of projection not just as a tool to showcase, but a tool to impact.
Linda Reiter is an ensemble member of Shattered Globe Theatre where she was seen most recently as Mary Todd Lincoln in The Heavens are Hung in Black. I having seen her portrayal of Mrs. Lincoln, I am in awe at the subtle grace and power. Reiter’s repertoire spanning a variety of iconic women from history is truly a pleasure to experience and empowering as a woman. Rose treasured family above all else and it is clear that Reiter’s expression through small facial changes and wavering vibrato that the matriarch of America’s “Camelot” felt so much more than her outward appearance to the world.
Rose is a smart and reflective piece that transcends history into a timeless narrative of feminism. Hidden truths become exposed and a willingness to accept the compromises that come with success and achievement. If you thought you knew the Kennedy’s, you will leave the theater with some new perspectives on one of America’s most influential families.
Rose is playing now through March 11,2018 at the Greenhouse Theater Center (Downstairs Main Stage), 2257 N Lincoln Ave, in Chicago. Tickets are available online, in person at the box office or by calling 773.404.7336 For more information please visit greenhousetheater.org
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!