Linda Reiter Is Extraordinary as Kennedy Matriarch “Rose”
Reviewed by: Russell Goeltenbodt
Most everyone knows the history of America’s 20th Century Camelot family, then Kennedys. Those of us who grew up watching and hearing about President John F. Kennedy continued to be connected with the Kennedys after his tragic assassination in 1963. We then continued to learn of the many past and future tragedies that bestowed this iconic family. The matriarch of this family was Rose Kennedy who shouldered all of these horrific events involving over half of her nine children and her husband Joseph P. Kennedy. Rose did so with courage, humility and embracing her Catholic faith.
Even though, so much has been written about President Kennedy and the illustrious Kennedy family, I really believed that I knew pretty much all that I needed to know. That is, until seeing this biographical one woman show “ROSE”.
Rose is about the Kennedy family matriarch Rose Kennedy. ROSE is written by playwright Laurence Leamer who adapted this compelling play from interviews with ghostwriter and biographer Robert Coughlin. Coughlin interviewed Rose Kennedy shortly after the scandal at Chappaquiddick involving her youngest son Senator Ted Kennedy and a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne who drowned during the tragic auto accident in 1969.
After Robert Coughlin died, his widow gave Laurence Lieber over 50 hours of Coughlin’s taped interviews with Rose Kennedy for a biography. Lieber had them on a shelf for many years until finally listening to them. In the tapes Rose Kennedy revealed very personal information about her family, including the good times and the sad times. Most of this information was never made public. Laurence Lieber who is known for his NY Times best selling trilogy about the Kennedy family, “The Kennedy Women, and The Kennedy Men and The Sons of Camelot”, is very educated with the Kennedy family history. Through these tapes Lieber developed the concept for this marvelous, compelling, and emotional play ROSE.
The play opens with Rose Kennedy in her stylish living room at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. The living room is filled with expensive furniture and many family photographs. Rose is speaking with her biographer, but is often distracted because she is waiting for her youngest son Teddy to return from sailing. Due to the recent news a few weeks earlier concerning the Chappaquiddick scandal, Rose is worried about her son. You can see that during her interview that she is worried and her mind is on Teddy’s well being. All the while going back to her interview with Coughlin. As the interview continues Rose continues to reminisce going through photo albums recounting stories about her childhood, her famous political father, John (Honey Fitz) Fitzgerald who was Boston’s Mayor and later a Senator, her relationship and marriage to her husband Joseph P. Kennedy, and their children. Time to time Rose is interrupted with telephone calls from her family, but not Teddy. Her concern for Teddy deepens.
Linda Reiter who plays Rose Kennedy is Rose Kennedy is exquisite. The audience is convinced that they are with the Kennedy matriarch and feels what she is feeling. In public, Rose Kennedy was very guarded. However, during this production Lieber and Director Steven Scott show Rose’s strength, emotions and frustrations. Scott’s flawless direction brought reality to this amazing production. This play is filled with so much power and emotion and Linda Reiter succeeds in convincing the audience that they are in Rose Kennedy’s Hyannis Port living room. As Rose is looking through the photo albums, the photos are projected on a curtain to the back of the stage, so the audience becomes part of the experience of viewing the albums. This is a very nice touch from the Director, Steven Scott and Scenic Designer, Kevin Hagan. All of these elements bring forth a successful production of ROSE.
As for the book, Laurence Lieber’s writing is quite candid and brutally real. When you have terrific writing, great direction, an outstanding actress, Linda Reiter you can’t miss having a winner. My reaction and the reaction of the audience felt the joy, the sadness and the anger Rose was feeling and describing. I would really love to see this play to go to Broadway. ROSE is really sensational in every sense of the word
ROSE is appearing at the Greenhouse Theater Center; 2257 North Lincoln Avenue Chicago through September 25. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. greenhousetheatre.org