Peggy Sue Dunigan

Chamber Theatre’s Subject Was Roses touches

By - Nov 21st, 2010 01:11 pm
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The Cleary family: L-R, Harazin, Workentin, Tasse. MCT photo by Mark Frohna.

Timmy Cleary comes home from World War II as the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s The Subject Was Roses begins. His parents, Nettie and John, celebrate his homecoming as other families in their working-class New York neighborhood mourn lost sons.

Three years of soldiering have changed Timmy, but not his parents. In Frank Gilroy’s 1964 play, he finds them still embedded in cold, controlling, isolating patterns. As a child, Timmy found himself between John and Nettie as they skirmished. As a man — a man who’s seen the horror of German concentration camps — he’s in the middle again. Timmy always held the couple together, and tries to do so again post-war, through affectionate manipulation of his warring parents.

C. Michael Wright directed three familiar Milwaukee actors in Gilroy’s penetrating drama; and the chemistry of Nicholas Harazin (Timmy), James Tasse (John) and Tami Workentin (Nettie) is electric on the Broadway Theatre Center Studio stage. This Irish Catholic family lives in R.H. Graham’s faithfully rendered 1946 home. The little place has a living room, but the action concentrates on the left, in the kitchen.The setting and the actors give the characters the psychological underpinnings to make their acerbic and dysfunctional relationships plausible. Workentin, Harazin and Tasse got the humor, too – the subject is serious, but not grim.

About those roses: Nettie received a dozen red roses from her father on her birthday every year until her father died. Roses fill a vase in her kitchen once again after Timmy returns. Timmy bought them, but convinces his father to say the roses came from him. The sentiment touches Nettie’s heart, but it can’t last. John’s aversion to intimacy becomes irrevocable when he confesses that he had nothing to do with the roses.

Workentin’s Nettie powers several late moments on stage in a dialogue with Timmy, and then speaking in soliloquy, which Tasse’s John follows with in another heart-rendering scene. At the end, Timmy realizes he must retreat from this New York war zone.

Gilroy’s timeless 1965 Pulitzer-prize winner — and Chamber Theatre’s staging of it — relates the essential need for affirming love. It also acknowledges Timmy’s courage in fighting on a different sort of front than he faced in Europe. The show might just prompt you to send roses to someone, to say something that cannot be said too often: “I love you.”

Milwaukee Chamber Theater presents Frank D. Gilroy’s The Subject Was Roses through Dec. 12. For tickets call the Broadway Theatre Center box office, 414-291-7800, or visit the MCT website.

Categories: A/C Feature 1, Theater

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