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.
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; www.norasplayhouse.org.
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-- 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.