Theatre in Review

Monday, 22 January 2018 10:36

Witness the Passion and Lamentations of Rose Kennedy in Stunning One-woman Show Featured

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Linda Reiter as Rose Kennedy in Rose at the Greenhouse Theater Center Linda Reiter as Rose Kennedy in Rose at the Greenhouse Theater Center

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.

Last modified on Monday, 22 January 2018 11:04
Bill Esler

A native Chicagoan, Bill Esler has been a printer and publisher for more than 35 years. He has B.A. in English with a concentration in writing from Knox College. 



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