Saturday, December 5, 2015

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Rose

Kathleen Chalfant. Photo: Carol Rosegg

Rose Kennedy, We Hardly Knew Ye
By Lauren Yarger
Those of us who are older think we have a good idea of who she is. Members of younger generations, born after the Kennedy dynasty was the top news story, might think they know her from events that shaped her life. But Laurence Leamer’s play Rose proves that we probably just know parts of the whole when it comes to the tragic life of Rose Kennedy.

We mostly know her as the mother of President John Kennedy, his politically active brothers Bobby and Teddy and daughter Eunice, who founded the Special Olympics. But did you know she had six other children, one of them mentally challenged and that she had to put up with a philandering husband who had many affairs, including one with actress Gloria Swanson?

The fascinating, often tragic events of Rose's life are explored in the play, being presented in its world premiere Off-Broadway by Nora's Playhouse, and in a brilliant portrayal by award-winner Kathleen Chalfant. Leamer, is the best-selling author of "The Kennedy Women," and "The Kennedy Men and Sons of Camelot" and incorporates information gleaned during 40 hours of interviews he taped with Rose Kennedy while working on her ghost-written autobiography. 

It is July, 1969 and we are invited into Rose's elegant Hyannis Port home (designed to incorporate projected photos by Anya Klepikov) as the matriarch awaits Teddy, who just a few days ago drive his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, MA, killing the passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne.

Rose chats with the audience in between taking phone calls from family members like Jack''s widow, Jacqueline, who recently has decided to remarry Greek oil tycoon Aristotle Onassis and Ted's wife, Joan, who has turned to alcohol for comfort. (Leamer overuses the telephone technique in his first attempt at writing for the stage, but it is plausible that Rose would be fielding a lot of them after the tragedy).

Rose's husband, Joe, isn't any help. He's upstairs where he has been some time, bedridden following a stroke. All of the family relationships are strained here, we discover. Rose is distant from her daughters, who felt their male siblings got all of the advantages, and the brothers are all gone now, except for Ted.  Jack and Bobby were assassinated and the eldest son, Joe, was killed in World War II.

Tension also exists within the family because of decisions made regarding Rosemary, the family's oldest daughter, born with learning disabilities that were kept secret as the family came to social prominence. Eventually the young woman was put into an institution and subjected to a lobotomy which caused permanent damage. Joe Kennedy, Sr., apparently embarrassed by Rosemary's deficiencies and always looking for a "cure," ordered the procedure behind Rose's back. Yet, we're not sure that if she had  known, Rose would have been willing or able to do anything about it....

The nuanced performance by Chalfant, directed by Caroline Reddick Lawson, has us engaged throughout the 90-minute performance. The show has a very limited run, unfortunately, only through Dec. 13 at Theater Row. 

Other information:
Design Team includes Jane Greenwood (costumes), Caitlin Rapoport (lighting) and Jane Shaw (sound).

Named for the heroine of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Nora’s Playhouse is devoted to presenting a wide range of women's stories, told through the collaboration of women artists. Rose is the playhouse's first off-Broadway production. 

"Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter" by Kate Clifford Larson was published this fall.

Rose plays through Dec. 13 at the Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd St., NYC. Tickets are $65: 212-239-6200;

Christians might also like to know:
-- No content notes. Enjoy. There are some parts dealing with Rose's discovery of her faith at a convent school and how that faith helps her cope.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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