Directed by Caroline Reddick Lawson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“I’m thinking unnecessary thoughts. I always keep busy, but what can I do? I can’t go to early morning mass. The reporters sit in nearby pews whispering their queries. I can’t take my daily walk on the golf course either. The photographers and the gawkers follow me even there.” – Rose
Just a few days after her only surviving son Teddy drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts in July of 1969 and his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne drowned, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy – matriarch of the Kennedy clan – shares Kennedy family history and memories with a group of visitors (the audience) to her Hyannis Port home while husband Joe remains upstairs. Rose (Kathleen Chalfant) includes an impressive swath of history from her birth in 1890 to the Apollo 11 manned spacecraft moon landing – the fulfillment of son Jack’s ambition for NASA’s space program.
Equally impressive is Kathleen Chalfant’s layered and nuanced performance. Her portrayal of Rose Kennedy is as subtle as it is strident and captures every mood of the matriarch from the soothing strains of one colluding with her dysfunctional family members to the plaintive tones of one coming to terms with what might have been. Rose’s perfunctory rehearsal of Kennedy family successes unravels as her “thinking unnecessary thoughts” begins to expose both the dark underbelly of the family history and the daunting doubts of her own ability to properly support her children and manage an unwieldly family structure.
Rose’s monologue is interrupted several times by phone calls from Teddy’s sister Pat, inebriated and expressing concern about her brother; from Teddy’s wife Joan stressing over her husband’s infidelity and her “outsider” status; from Jacqueline (“She will always be a Kennedy!”) wondering about Teddy’s wellbeing; from Eunice (“Sometimes I think you’re a man.”) postulating her brother had run off with another woman; and from Teddy confirming he wants to resign from the Senate and run off with another woman.
There is nothing new in Mr. Leamer’s script and the lackluster set (where was the piano?) does little to enhance the text. The power of “Rose” is in the performance. Kathleen Chalfant lassoes the script and shows a Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy who ultimately reflects on her own life and is able with remarkable strength to express regret that all her life she had “obeyed men” – her father, her husband Joe, and “the men of the Church” – and that if only she had stood up to all of them life might have been different and perhaps better. See “Rose” to bask in the craft of an actor who knows how to bring authenticity and believability to an iconic woman and her remarkable story.