Theatre in Review

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

Brett Neveu is a playwright to watch. To call him up-and-coming would be unfair as his work has appeared at The Goodman, Writers Theatre and Red Orchid Threatre. His new play "Her America" is being presented by The Greenhouse Theater Center as part of their Solo Celebration Series. 

 

Directed by Linda Gillum, "Her America" is single character play starring Kate Buddeke. She gives a riveting performance as a not-all-there Midwestern housewife locked in a basement. Buddeke embodies the character effortlessly. Her delivery is familiar and in many lines, hauntingly real. 

 

In the hour we spend with this unnamed character, she uses objects in her basement to freely associate memories and stories from her childhood. To whom she is speaking remains a mystery throughout. Neveu's script is highly detailed which serves to dimensionalize Buddeke's character. Through random memories, she explains the various influences in her life and how she became the person she is.

 

"Her America" files down to a crushing revelation, but along the way uncovers something darker. It says a lot about what life is like in America for those with few options. It's rare when the theater gives a truly empathetic portrayal of rural life. "Her America" was written in a bitterly devisive time and its message is to say that we should be more understanding with each other. 

 

Through February 12 at The Greenhouse Theater Center. 2257 N Lincoln Ave. 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Saturday, 13 June 2015 00:00

Review: Abraham Lincoln Was A F*gg*t

What do Michael Jackson and Abraham Lincoln have in common? Playwright Bixby Elliot explores the parallels between the sixteenth president, the king of pop and the landscape for LGBT youth in his new play “Abraham Lincoln was a Faggot” at About Face Theatre.

Elliot’s play follows two intertwining narratives in an attempt to answer the eternal question: was Abraham Lincoln gay? In the present, there is Cal (Matt Farabee), a high schooler coming to terms with his sexuality while trying to prove Lincoln’s orientation. In the past, there is the supposed story of Lincoln’s homosexual love affairs. In between are Cal’s terrified mother (Jessie Fisher) and uncle (Nathan Hosner) who must traverse the uneasy waters of an older generation’s attitude toward homosexuality.

Director Andrew Volkoff brings together a well-equipped cast for this show. Dana Black’s clowning as narrator, historian and Ellen Degeneres will likely be most remembered. She accents and punctuates nearly every scene and it brings a much needed sense of lightness. Jessie Fisher in a duel role as both Mary Todd Lincoln and Cal’s mother balances  eccentricity and subtlety.

Bixby’s script, even if at times extraneous, has a lot of heart and makes a lot of great points about our media obsessed culture. At first the Michael Jackson musical numbers and background tracks seem strangely out of place, but as the show continues the script points to two lives lived under grueling American scrutiny. The author writes from a much more closeted generation than our current times, but still the struggle to live a life that is true to oneself is the ultimate argument. This essential human necessity transcends race, gender, class and sexuality. The script is well-structured and under Volkoff’s direction, has a real sense of emotional authenticity that could be lost in such an inventive concept.

Through July 5th. At the Green House Theatre Center. 2257 N Lincoln Ave. 773-404-7336

Published in Theatre Reviews
Saturday, 02 May 2015 00:00

Review: Anna in the Afterlife

 "Anna in the Afterlife" is a play based on author Richard Engling’s friendship and collaboration with Fern Chertkow, a dear longtime friend, writer, and colleague who took her own life in 1988.

There was so much in this play that I enjoyed in terms of its emotional themes and the exploration of what happens to your consciousness immediately after death. The play also admirably tries to answer the question of what happens after death if you commit suicide.

Richard Engling played himself in this production which I think was meant to be sort of an homage to the Woody Allen type of storytelling but unfortunately Engling’s writing is so much better than his acting ability for the stage that all of the very talented supporting actors were forced to sort of dance around him, helping him into each moment on stage instead of playing the characters directly to each other as trained actors normally would.

The stage and lighting design were lovely to look at and helped define the storyline which jumped around in time a little too often to follow the main idea of the play. Literally jumping back in time to meeting his friend in Paris then back to his struggles in the afterlife then to visit all three splintered personalities of his friend as a little girl, young woman and deceased spirit, became very confusing after a while but were still interesting and evocative scenes in and of themselves.

The play in its current state can be moving at times and even has the ability to connect with its audience in areas particularly if you have recently lost a loved one and can easily identify with the soul searching and guilt that seems to universally accompany any death. Anna in the Afterlife might hit home especially if a friend or family member has suffered from cancer or another painful disease or has taken their own life.

The play definitely needs a rewrite though to make it more comprehensible as there is much to learn from this piece and many interesting ideas to ponder about grieving and the nature of life and death and consciousness. Also, Engling should step outside of the next production and cast a really talented and mature stage actor who can play his life in such a way so that we feel more compassion for his character’s flaws and struggles.

Directed by Susan Padveen, Anna in the Afterlife is playing at the Greenhouse Theatre Center through May 24th. For tickets and/or more information visit http://greenhousetheater.org/

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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