Remembering Rose Pickering

By - Nov 30th, 2011 02:58 pm

Rose Pickering and John Kishline in Albee’s “A Delicate Balance,” at the Rep’s Stiemke Theater in 2002. Milwaukee Rep photo by Jay Westhauser.

Rose Pickering, a versatile actress and a virtual lifer at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, died at 64 on Thanksgiving night after a long struggle with cancer.

Pickering opened The Rep’s new Powerhouse Theater in 1987, as Dolly in The Matchmaker. She played Kate Keller in All My Sons, Mag in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Amanda in The Glass Menagerie, Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible, Kate in Dancing at Lughnasa. She was Juno in Juno and the Paycock, Miss Lulu Bett and Mother Courage. She performed in all four great Chekhov masterpieces, and played both Olga and later Masha in Three Sisters, Sonya in Uncle Vanya, Arkadina in The Seagull and Bobka in The Cherry Orchard. She often worked with her husband, Jim Pickering, another Rep stalwart.

Actor and playwright John Kishline has been friends with the Pickerings for more than 4o years. He shared some thoughts on Rose’s passing.

When I heard that Rose Pickering had died after a monumental bout with cancer, I thought about when I first met her. I think it was in the early 70’s, when she’d come down the street to see some of Theatre X’s work and stayed to talk about it with us. Rose let you know what she thought, what worked for her and what didn’t, and encouraged you as she did it. We became friends.

Over the course of one of our first dinners together many years ago, we talked about everything and then talked some more as we emptied every cordial bottle in the cabinet. The sweet alcohol fueled a conversation that skidded all over the human map and included my father’s recent sudden death.

We talked of how being an actor, with its trading in the limits of human emotions, did not lessen the hammering shock of the loss. Perhaps what it did do was make it easier to rebound from the shock. We spoke of visiting those dark pits on stage for the public to see and judge. We talked of vulnerability and mettle, fear and courage and the will to forge on to find meaning in a world that seems to have little. Oh, we talked. And when it was time for me to go, Rose forced a cup of coffee on me as some kind cosmic insurance that I would make it home safely. It wasn’t far and I did, and hit the bed moments later. At 3 a.m. I sat up, wide awake from a caffeine and sugar fever dream that demanded recognition from the conscious world. I wrote about my dad.

That text sat for close to 10 years before I put it in a character’s mouth in my play, SUCCESS, in 1990. When we retooled the play for the India tour this last summer, I rewrote it. Here is the passage that began in a discussion with the Pickerings about life, death and theater:

“When I was kid, my Dad always fell asleep on the rug as we watched TV. Then he’d begin mumbling, and talking, you know, blurting out phrases. Sometimes they almost made sense. My brother, Gregg, and I would ask him questions about this stuff as he laid there. And my dad would tumble out answers that made sense only to him. Like warnings. ‘Watch out for the goddamn craster!’ What’s a craster, Dad? We’d laugh. Man, did we laugh. This would go on for awhile and then Mom would shoo us away, or he’d lapse into snoring. Later, he’d wake for a slug of milk in the kitchen and plod up the stairs to bed. Next day, he went into work and turned that into money. Thirty years, man. They paid him and he took it. That’s a lot of demons. I couldn’t do that.”

I later acted with Rose twice. The one I remember most clearly is Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, in which she played Edna and I played Harry. It was a fine cast: Jim Pickering, Elizabeth Norment, Deborah Staples, Laurie Birmingham, Rose and me. Edward Morgan directed. We did well. I needed that because I was reeling from the implosion of Theatre X only a few months before, and whatever claim I had to being an actor and an artist was tenuous.

Rose was there for me as a touchstone, my defender and champion. My great friend when I really needed one. My life was there in the play, grappling with those demons. Rose’s performance was beautiful. She stood next to me with all her vulnerability and mettle, fear and courage and the will to forge on to find meaning in a world that seems to have little.

Oh, I will miss that.

Display image: Rose Pickering in Enchanted April in 2008. Milwaukee Rep photo by Jay Westhauser.


Categories: A/C Feature 3, Theater

0 thoughts on “Remembering Rose Pickering”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This was my first play to understudy as an intern at Milwaukee Rep. I’ve thought so much about it this week and all of the things I learned from the experience.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing your memories of Rose. Missing a long time friend is sometimes made more difficult because we choose our friends whereas we are born into our family. I am sorry for your loss. I never met Rose personally but I “met” her every time she stepped onto the stage. As a subscriber since the ’77-’78 season, Rose revealed much about herself in the way she presented her character to the audience. And she played so many characters so very well!! I borrow your last words: “Oh, I will miss that.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    Many thanks for your comments. Dick and Stacie. — Tom Strini

  4. Anonymous says:

    Growing up, I had the honor of working with the Pickerings twice in “A Christmas Carol,” and delighted in watching Rose’s brilliant portrayal of Dolly in “The Matchmaker” at a high school theatre workshop in 1987. She always took time to share her thoughts and experiences with the children in the cast of ACC, and we hung on her every word and suggestion. She will always be a role model for me in this craft, and will be missed.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great article for a great person.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for remembering the life of a great and influential artist, whose legacy on the stage will live on in the memories of those she touched, whether audience or fellow actor.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories of such a talented, graceful and beautiful woman. I had the distinct pleasure of working with both of the Pickerings during the 2000-2001 season as an intern. Upon arriving days before any other intern, I was treated to a personal tour of the Rep. It was during this tour that I met Rose. Within minutes of meeting me she suggested to the Artistic Director that I would be “perfect” for one of the roles in the upcoming season. I had scarcely known this woman for fifteen minutes and already she was trying to help me. I was not special to her in any other way than that I was there. Rose was always looking out for all those around her. Her presence will be missed on the stage and in the hearts of those she touched.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I was just looking for Rose online a little over a week ago… She had been on my mind as I learn my new “old lady” monologue material and I am so sorry to hear that she passed. We were in a production of “The Rivals” at the Court Theatre on the University of Chicago campus back in 1985, the year the Bears went to the bowl. Directed by Maria Aitken, Rose’s Mrs. Malaprop was the funniest portrayal I had ever seen and now, more than 25 years later, it still is… I will carry her in my heart as long as I am still kicking, and let her dedication and professionalism continue to influence my own work. RIP, Rose…

  9. Anonymous says:

    Could someone please remind me what Rose’s maiden name was?

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