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Rose, the one-woman show featuring the matriarch of the Kennedy family, has returned to the Greenhouse Theater Center. In an extraordinary performance by Linda Reiter, Rose provides a back-story on the family dynamics at play among the Kennedy’s - a window into the powerful maternal force that delivered so many dynamic individuals, including two Senators and a President, to the public sphere.

The show received accolades during its 2016 incarnation, and it is easy to see why. But the social landscape has changed mightily since then. But it was probably not planned that way at Greenhouse Theater. The current run, which coincides with the first anniversary of President Donald Trump’s election, serves as a commentary on the times - with a Presidency that has moved into what Peggy Noonan has called a “post heroic” phase. 

Highly successful in its original run in Chicago and off-Broadway, this 120-minute, one-act script by  Laurence Leamer artfully chronicles the trials of the long-suffering Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Though during the days when her sons Jack, Robert, and Ted Kennedy were in office, Rose Kennedy was a more behind the scenes public force than another comparable political scion, Barbara Bush, in her day.

“I’d rather be the mother of the President than the President,” Rose tells us, moving around a sitting room of French provincial furniture, in slacks, sweater and pearls, and her signature black bouffant hairdo. She lifts the many photos and peruses albums, some of which are also projected on a wal behind the set.

The details into the family come from years of research by author Leamer, who wrote a best-selling trilogy on the Kennedys - The Kennedy Women, The Kennedy Men and Sons of Camelot - all New York Times best sellers. Leamer was subsequently given access to 50 hours of taped interviews with Rose Kennedy, which provide a previously unseen look into the family, including infidelities and troubling dynamics of her marriage to Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., a successful businessman, and appointed by Franklin Roosevelt as the first chairman of the Securities & Exchange Commission. He is known also to Chicagoans as the owner of the Merchandise Mart.

Chicago actress Linda Reiter reprises her role, in an excellent, highly polished performance that will draw a tear as she recounts the many successes of her offspring, four of whom (Jack assassinated in 1963 and Robert in 1968; her oldest Joseph, dies in an air force bombing mission 1944; and Kathleen in a 1947 plane crash).

It is a telling commentary on the cultural landscape that the relevance of Rose is quite changed. During its 2016 run, Artistic Director Jacob Harvey anticipated former first lady Hillary Clinton as a first woman U.S. President.  And one whose spouse had leveraged political links to the Kennedy family during his Presidential campaigns.  

But that was not how it turned out. And so how do we look at Rose today?

Leamer presents a full-dimensioned character with Rose, who is revealed over the course of this 100-minute one-act by her one-sided conversation with an unseen visitor, who arrives soon after Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick scandal cum tragedy.

Periodically phone calls interrupt – her daughters Eunice and Pat; the widow Jacqueline. She is hoping to hear from Teddy, her only remaining son, but he is AWOL for the moment.

In the face of this latest blow to the family, Rose is seeking solace in the Greek tragedies, citing Hecuba, a play by Euripides.

This detail by Leamer gives the play heft and illuminates its underpinnings; we are to see Rose as a woman who has suffered unbearable pain, and yet she endures. Her ancient counterpart Hecuba has several parallels to Rose: she lost her throne as queen when Troy fell; she had nineteen children with wealthy King Priam; she saw a daughter Polyxena sacrificed by enemies, and her youngest son, Polydorus, murdered by enemies.

Rose Kennedy had nine children with wealthy Joseph P. Kennedy; she lived to see two assassinated and two killed in crashes.

Euripides Hecuba is driven mad by her suffering. Rose handles it with Stoicism – another gift of the Greeks, though her version comes by way of the Catholic Church of Irish-Americans.   

“My faith is a discipline, a path from which I never wander,” Rose tells us. She references the Greeks again in a quote favored by her son, Bobby - “God, whose law it is that he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

If the Presidency is in a post-heroic phase, the play Rose gives us access to the powerful story of the a more congenial moment in time when individuals and leaders asked not what the country could do for them, but what they could do for the country. Rose runs through March 11 at the Greenhouse Theater Center.

Published in Theatre in Review

Shattered Globe Theatre is pleased to launch its 2017-18 Season with the Chicago premiere of Pulitzer Prize nominee James Still’s fevered, emotional epic THE HEAVENS ARE HUNG IN BLACK, a theatrical rendering of Abraham Lincoln's struggle as a man of conscience to lead a divided country, directed by SGT Ensemble Member Louis Contey*. THE HEAVENS ARE HUNG IN BLACK will play September 7 – October 21, 2017 at SGT’s resident home Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at www.shatteredglobe.org, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at the Theater Wit Box Office. 
 
THE HEAVENS ARE HUNG IN BLACK will feature Lawrence Grimm and SGT Ensemble member Linda Reiter* as Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln, respectively. The cast also includes SGT Ensemble Members Kelsey Melvin*, Drew Schad*, Brad Woodard* and SGT Artistic Associate Darren Jones+, with Don Bender, Zach Bloomfield, Jennifer Cheung, Kate Harris, Tim Kough, Tim Newell, Leo Sharkey and Gus Zaruba.
 
Presented for the first time in the “Land of Lincoln,” THE HEAVENS ARE HUNG IN BLACK is James Still’s personal interpretation on the months leading up to Abraham Lincoln’s signing of The Emancipation Proclamation. This theatrical epic explores Lincoln’s humanity, conscience and leadership through the troubled times of 1862 – as dreams of his famous adversaries and unnamed soldiers walk through his waking life. Sprinkled with text pulled from Lincoln’s prolific letters and speeches, this play explores the heart of the man who led America in a war that we're still fighting today.
 
“The Heavens are Hung in Black portrays a transformational moment in Abraham Lincoln’s life and worldview,” comments Director Louis Contey. “In 1862, after nearly a year of bloody civil war, Lincoln must find a way of elevating the purpose of the conflict and save the Union. It is said that the office of President changes the individual who occupies it. With his conscience gnawing at him Lincoln begins to evolve as he considers the virtues and controversy of emancipation. The play, for me, embodies the essence of moral leadership and the idea of doing the right thing for the right reason, or as Lincoln himself states, listening ‘to the better angels of our nature’.”
 
THE HEAVENS ARE HUNG IN BLACK was commissioned by and premiered at Ford’s Theatre in 2009, where Lincoln was famously shot.
 
The production team includes Angie Miller (scenic design), Hailey Rakowiecki (costume design), Madison Briede (assistant costume design), Michael Stanfill (lighting and projection design), Chris Kriz+ (sound design), Vivian Knouse* (props design), Judy Anderson* (executive production manager), Jason Shivers (stage manager) and Ayanna Wimberly (assistant stage manager).
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: THE HEAVENS ARE HUNG IN BLACK
Playwright: James Still
Director: Louis Contey*
Cast: Don Bender (William Seward, Jefferson Davis, Edwin Booth, Ensemble), Zach Bloomfield (John Brown, Billy Brown, Canterbury, Ensemble), Jennifer Cheung (Young Woman, Ensemble), Lawrence Grimm (Abraham Lincoln), Kate Harris (Mrs. Winston, Westmoreland, Ensemble), Darren Jones+ (Dred Scott, Theophilus Hammond, Uncle Tom, Ensemble), Tim Kough (Ward Hill Lamon, Bates, Ensemble), Kelsey Melvin* (Thomas Haley), Tim Newell (Walt Whitman), Linda Reiter* (Mary Todd Lincoln), Drew Schad* (John Hay), Leo Sharkey (Tad Lincoln), Brad Woodard* (Edwin Stanton, Stephen Douglas, Ensemble) and Gus Zaruba (Willie Lincoln, Newsboy).
 
Location: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave, Chicago
Dates: Previews: Thursday, September 7 at 8 pm, Friday, September 8 at 8 pm and Saturday, September 9 at 8 pm
Regular Run: Thursday, September 14 – Saturday, October 21, 2017 
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. Please note: there will be no performance on Saturday, October 7 at 8 pm and an added matinee on Saturday, October 21 at 3 pm.
Touch Tour/Audio Description Performance: Friday, October 6 – 6:30 pm touch tour, 8 pm performance with audio description. $20 tickets available with code “ACCESS.”
Global Perspectives: SGT will be hosting post-show discussions immediately following 3 pm performances on Sundays, September 17 -October 15.
Tickets: Previews: $20 general admission, $10 students, $10 industry tickets with code “FRIEND”. Regular Run: $35 general admission. Discounts: $15 students, $28 seniors, $20 under 30. $15 industry tickets on Thursdays with code “INDUSTRY.” Tickets are currently available at www.theaterwit.org, in person at the Theater Wit Box Office or by calling (773) 975-8150. Group discounts are currently available by contacting This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling (773) 770-0333. 
 
* Denotes SGT Ensemble Member
+ Denotes SGT Artistic Associate

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Chicago actress Linda Reiter plays Rose Kennedy, matriarch of the Kennedy family in the play "Rose" by Laurence Leamer, with both strength and delicacy. I have seen Linda Reiter around town in many great productions but this is truly her finest and fullest role, deserving of a Jeff Award (the Chicago version of the Tony Awards). 

 

Leamer, a Kennedy biographer, built the entire play on forty hours of taped interviews taken by Robert Coughlan, who was the ghostwriter of Rose Kennedy's own memoir in 1974. Leamer attained the tapes after Coughlin’s death in 1992 where the tapes found home on a shelf until just recently when Leamer finally chose "deal with them", the result being this spectacular and intimate one-woman show.

 

Kind of a rise and fall of the Kennedy’s from Rose’s viewpoint, I learned many interesting and sad facts from this piece that I'm sure the public is unaware of. For one, Rose mentions in the show that she felt a delay in the doctor’s arrival that caused her daughter Rosemary's "slowness" or what we would call today very mildly mentally challenged due to oxygen deficiency at birth. 

 

I was unaware of the circumstances and motive behind the lobotomy Rosemary was given. Apparently, the beautiful, but "slow" Rosemary was an embarrassment to Joe Kennedy so she was sent to live with some nuns in Europe - out of sight out of mind Joe thought. But when Rosemary had just barely reached adulthood she began to sneak out in the night to meet men and have adult experiences in the local towns, Joe feared she would become pregnant ruining his and his sons’ chances for political success. 

 

At that time only five hundred lobotomies had been performed in the world and only on the most violent of criminals. So without telling her mother Rose he took Rosemary to a doctor who supposedly specialized in such a procedure. The doctor administered some topical anesthetic to Rosemary's forehead and told her to sing a song. Beautiful Rosemary with her big eyes and full lips trustingly and with no knowledge of what the doctor's visit was for, asked her father what to sing. Joe said, “Sing Danny Boy, that's a good one." The doctor carved away at Rosemary's frontal lobe until she stopped singing. Later Joe told Rose that '"His daughter sang ...for too long." 

 

Rose was bound with this horrible secret and did not tell the rest of the family because she knew they would never feel the same way about their father again. Rose later wonders if she had let them know if they would have bowed to his wishes so complacently, sometimes leading eventually in some way to that child's death - either fighting at war or when Joe refused to let Kathleen marry the man she loved out of their religion. 

 

Sadly, Rose herself only visited Rosemary once twenty-some years later in the nunnery her daughter was returned to after the disastrous lobotomy. She said Rosemary actually recognized her and had gained a lot of weight but cursed at her, turning her back until the nuns came and said Rose must leave because her presence was upsetting her daughter.

 

I truly believe this one act of tortuous father to daughter betrayal in the Kennedy family was the beginning of the so called "curse" on the Kennedy clan. Reiter brilliantly describes with heart wrenching poignancy this unbelievable story along with the deaths and mourning of the rest of her children - one by one, many of whom she also gave birth to alone as Joe was usually on vacation in Florida with other women) while she was pregnant and giving birth. 

 

Ironically, it was Eunice Mary Kennedy Shriver who started the Special Olympics, perhaps the only good thing to come of Rosemary's terribly unfair and cruel life and demise. 

 

Reiter, as Rose, fondly recalls her memories of Jack, who grew up sickly, still suffering from chronic pain even in his days as President. Almost dying from surgery performed in his youth, she explains how Jack defied the odds, fulfilling his destiny. She describes in detail how Jack looked up to his older brother Joe and the devastation felt upon his untimely death from a plane crash. She describes Bobby as Jack’s protector stating, “There wasn’t anything Bobby wouldn’t do for Jack.” Reiter skillfully captures the pride of a mother upon speaking of their achievements and also the worry and pain as she reminisces the family’s misfortune.      

 

The play is inter-cut with wonderful photos of the entire Kennedy clan including Rosemary, which I had never seen before. Throughout the play the phone occasionally rings as Rose nervously waits to hear from her son Teddy who is running later than usual. After all, he is her only remaining son as she tells her story and though Rose’s disappointment is apparent that Teddy is not on the other end of the line, the audience gets to hear her conversations with various family members including Jackie Onassis Kennedy. 

 

Kennedy buffs or not, historians all the same will certainly enjoy this masterful piece that Reiter executes so very well. In “Rose”, we as audience members, get an up close and personal view of the Kennedy’s rise and the many tragedies that later claimed the lives and health of one of America’s most prestigious families. Reiter performs brilliantly in this history-filled treasure, “Rose”, a part of Greenhouse Theater Center’s Solo Celebration.  

 

I highly recommend this beautifully crafted and factually stimulating play with Linda Reiter delivering possibly the finest performance of her life. “Rose” is being performed at Greenhouse Theater Center through September 25th. For more information on tickets and curtain times, visit www.GreenhouseTheater.org. 

 

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