Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Color of Rose by Kathrine Bates

By Joe Straw

Sometimes I wonder how all this came about.  Why I’m sitting here, in a lonely room, pecking away at the computer. Well, let’s see, the journey into theatre started in college, then to legitimate theatre with the Nederlander Organization, starring in plays, producing and directing plays, movies, television, back again into movies, then directing and producing independent theatrical features.  Piecing it all together would take time and energy and my imaginary staff of writers would go ape trying to make sense of it all.    

Theatre 40 presents the world premier of The Color of Rose written and directed by Kathrine Bates.  I saw this in a reading over a year ago and was pleasantly surprised by this full-scale production.

The Color of Rose is a fictionalized story of Rose Kennedy (Gloria Stroock) as she waits in a suite of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to give an interview with, one suspects, a noted writer.   

However there’s a problem.  The writer on the phone does not want to limit his questions. Rose politely tells the writer that questions of a personal nature are forbidden and suggests they do the interview another time.  The writer aquiest to her demands and Rose has won one more battle in a life filled with tumultuous campaigns.

But the phone call is disturbing.  It is yet another invasion into her private life of painful remembrances.  And at this point in her life, her memory is not what it used to be and the medication (she used in real life) to calm her nerves is not enough. She needs help.

Finding solace at the vanity table and looking into the mirror at her reflection, Rose contemplates her life, and reproduces herself as the younger Rose (Shelby Locee) who strolls into the room like an uninvited ghost.  Moments later, at the same mirror, a mature Rose  (Lia Sargent) walks into the suite of remembrances and together they fill in the missing pieces.

Upstage, on the back of the wall, is a huge vase filled with roses that spark twinkling memories in a life of long forgotten moments.  The various colored roses in the vase hit home a memory or an emotion of a forgotten noun.   A blue rose is “unattainable” and is represented by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., the white is Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, the yellow rose represents friendship, in Victorian times meant jealousy, and the pink rose is purity. Each rose captures and/or represents a significant moment in Rose’s life.

The vase stands silently behind the photographs of Joe Kennedy, Jr., Jack, Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Robert, Jean, and Edward.  Rose carries her photographs everywhere she travels to gaze at the moment when they looked their best and to speak fondly of those times.  

Not everyone has been keeping track of the Kennedys and their movements from the early 1900’s to present day but the Color of Rose by Katherine Bates will give you a linear narrative of what went on in her life during those years, complete with photographs projected against a nice screen.

Which presents a question:  Is this a play or a linear narrative? That may be something one has to decide when viewing this enjoyable production.  

And that is that!

Still, one can easily dismiss this production as a writer’s folly but upon closer inspection one realizes there is a lot here.  There is an overriding need to talk about this production. I want to make some production suggestions and bounce some ideas around, in keeping with a tradition of giving this holiday season and with the hope this show will be taken to other places and shown to a wider audience.

First, in the credits and in keeping with politically correct nomenclature, “Young Rose” is fine, “Middle Rose” should be Mature Rose, and “Older Rose” should be Senior Rose.  (Maybe it’s just me.)

The writer should be a stronger force, a strong name with a national publication behind him. Rose thinks of her conversation with the writer as a victory of sorts, but in reality the conflict is greater when she realizes she may have made a mistake.  This idea creates a greater conflict and moves the story along.  

So now Senior Rose, alone in her room at the Waldorf Astoria, goes to the mirror, sees herself as Young Rose and brings her into the room.  Why? Because she needs Young Rose to recreate her younger years and fill her in information she has forgotten.  (Could this be a character trait of losing her memory?) She is basically getting a refresher course of her life, which Senior Rose appreciates.  Also she needs Young Rose to convince her that giving the interview, with the gory details, will be all right.

But conflicted memories suggest Young Rose is not going to be enough, so she needs Mature Rose to fill in the details of her life in the middle. Mature Rose is somewhat bitter about the way Joseph Kennedy conducted himself.  She is a little savvier about life’s goings on.

Senior Rose needs to (for lack of another word) demand the memories.  While in character, she must receive the information, record it, and use it for the interview.

In the end Senior Rose must wait for the writer to come in for the interview, with the two younger Rose(s) behind her ready to back her up.  Symbolism goes a long way with this ending.

Beautiful photo by Ed Krieger

Gloria Stoock as “Older Rose” does a fine job. She has her moments but one can’t get over the fact that she has a purpose and that purpose is to prepare for the interview.  Those are the reasons she is in the room waiting for interview.  She needs to control the flow of information, physically and emotionally from the younger Roses and decide what information she is going press forward.   

Lia Sargent as “Middle Rose” is slightly frustrated by the events surrounding her.  One gets the sense she is a little worldlier and sees Young Rose as naive and “Older Rose” as slightly senile but still she is there to set the record straight. Her entrance, though the looking glass, should command more respect in the way she walks in and presents herself. Still, the conflict between yourself, young and old, can present unimaginable problems for the actor and one gets the sense this difficult problem has not been resolved.  Still Sargent is a fine actress and did an admirable job.

Shelby Kocee as “Young Rose” has all the enthusiasm of wild-eyed youth.  She also needs an entrance worthy of a young women woman in her position. She deeply regrets not going to Wellesley College. Instead she marries and has nine children.  Kocee has problems as she tries to negotiate the acting challenges in this play.  One problem is that the character can only take us up to a certain point but no further.   (It’s this strange theory of time travel floating around in my head.)  There is nothing wrong with the performance; in fact it is quite good.  But I believe there is something more to be had here.

Also, there is something wrong when a person from the past delights in the happenings of her own future.  For example Young Rose taking delight in her son becoming the President of the United States.  While rules in theatre were meant to be broken, this just seems an exercise in silliness. Perhaps there is a better way of capturing the spirit.

Transition is not a good word when dealing with a passage of time.  Still the characters need to move from Young Rose to Mature Rose seamlessly.  Young Rose should rely on the possibilities of future endeavors and once Young Rose is finished with her story, we should see a dramatic shift to Mature Rose. 

The Color of Rose presents some interesting ideas about conflict within oneself.  Kathrine Bates may have stumbled upon an idea of fighting an inner battle to reach a significant kind of truth. Maybe it’s not as stylized as it should be and maybe it needs to move in a direction that requires more focus and a stronger though line. Still it says a lot about the battles we have with our memories memories each and everyday.  

Bates as the writer and director wonderfully creates this extraordinary life. And yet this is a show that needs to think more outside the box. Take the acting to another level and style that delights and stuns at the same time. One cannot take a play like this and expect to run it like a normal play or treat it like a normal play.

And one couldn’t help thinking that adding a song or songs the characters sing would help as well.

Produced by David Hunt Stafford.  Set Design by Jeff G. Rach and Lighting Design by Ellen Monocroussos.  The Sound Design was by Bill Froggatt.

Through December 21, 2011

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