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The Subject Was Roses

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In 1964, Frank D. Gilroy's play, The Subject Was Roses premiered on Broadway at the Royale Theatre. The three-member cast featured a young actor named Martin Sheen. In that production, Sheen's role was that of the 21 year-old army veteran, Timmy Cleary, returning home after a three-year stint of service in World War Two. As plotted by Gilroy, Timmy is the only child born to a neurotic Catholic couple in the Bronx, named John and Nettie Cleary.

Now, nearly half a century later, Sheen is back on the boards in The Subject Was Roses. This time, however, Sheen portrays the petty patriarch, John. Moreover, instead of a Broadway re-incarnation, this staging (in association with Estevez Sheen Productions) is conducted at Los Angeles's Mark Taper Forum, through March 21.

Though it is wonderful to experience live actors of the caliber of Sheen, Frances Conroy (of HBO's memorable Six Feet Under series), and Brian Geraghty (fresh off a fine performance in the Oscar nominated film "The Hurt Locker"), there's something too staid--lethargic may be a more accurate description--about Neil Pepe's direction of this Roses. The show comes in at an hour and forty-five minutes (with one intermission), but it seems long and slightly loquacious.

It's hard to fault Gilroy's Pulitzer and Tony-winning drama of family dysfunction, and the exuberant actors certainly aren't to blame for the few longueurs present in the play. Gilroy created this story steeped in a period (1946) and place, colored by events from his own life. Roses is, after all, a semiautobiographical piece. And the trio of actors works with ease and naturalism.

Nevertheless, this effort creaks with age--seemingly out of touch and tune with our own era. Too bad. Certainly issues of repressed anger and despair in longsuffering marriages are ever-current, as is the idea of a child (adult or otherwise) being torn between two parents. But here the drama appears too quaint and small to be fully engaging. Yes, Gilroy's conceit is a compelling notion, though it's not quite in the league with such predecessors as Death of a Salesman or Long Day's Journey into Night. Perhaps Roses lacks the depth of tragedy those two classics offer. Still, one can't help but think that the problem is with Pepe's production more than Gilroy's play.

Sheen's boozy, Irish-descended, self-made man is full of bonhomie, regardless of the fact that he's a die-hard contrarian. In one exchange, John attempts to goad Timmy (Geraghty) into accompanying him to morning mass at the neighborhood church. When Timmy, at the last minute, acquiesces to his father's demand, the elder Cleary flip-flops, suggesting that his son shouldn't bother, and crying "never mind."

In another instance, Nettie (Conroy) reveals the details that led to her enduring if longsuffering matrimony to John. In response, Timmy says, "Now I suspect that no one's to blame...Not even me." In this revealing moment, we witness a son's individuation and a mother's acceptance of that fact, along with a resignation to the other cheerless facts of her own unhappy lot. It's a tender take on the human condition, played to affective perfection by Conroy and Geraghty.

Walt Spangler's scenic design evokes the big borough feel of the Bronx, circa 1940s, while the sadly ironic "Welcome Home Timmy" banner furrows above the living room, haunting the proceedings. Laura Bauers's well-suited costumes serve the characters well, while Rui Rita's lighting adds appropriate mood and texture to underscore the subtle emotions on display here.

The Subject Was Roses may not be the best production of this show ever done. Still, seeing Sheen, Conroy, and Geraghty perform is as good as it gets in terms of the art of acting. The show continues at LA's Mark Taper Forum--135 North Grand Avenue--through March21. Performances are Tuesday - Saturday at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and at 1 p.m. on Sundays, with Sunday evening showings at 6:30 p.m. (No performances on Sunday March 7). For reservations, dial (213) 628 - 2772. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.