Milwaukee Chamber's Evening With A Family From The '40s
Love, Connection and Three People In A Studio Theatre
The serious mid-to-late 20th family drama had gone quite a few different places . . . walking into Milwaukee Chamber Theatreâ€™s The Subject Was Roses,Â I expected something profoundly dark. The 1964 drama about an adult son returning to his two parents after serving overseas in World War II didnâ€™t sound very cheeryâ€”particularly as it explored alcoholism and emotional abuse . . . It was kind of a relief to find out that the darkness in Frank D. Gilroyâ€™s Roses doesnâ€™t have the sinister edge of A Streetcar Named Desire, or the overwhelming darkness found in Long Dayâ€™s Journey Into Night or Whoâ€™s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Â Â Â
There are three characters hereâ€”a mother, a father and a son. We see the entire action of the play move back and forth between a kitchen and a living room. In the course of the play, the actual events of the play are merely extensions of who these people are. This is essentially one long three person character sketch. Itâ€™s an audienceâ€™s opportunity to getÂ to know three characters delivered to the stage by three actors under the direction of C. Michael Wrightâ€”a director who consistently delivers very solid, very intense drama to the stage every year. Here are some initial impressions of the three characters and the actors who play them:
John Clearyâ€”played by James Tasseâ€”A coffee salesman living in the Bronx in the â€˜40â€™s. Heâ€™s done pretty well for himself. Thereâ€™s some of the charm of the salesman in the character present in a very earthy performance by Tasse. Thereâ€™s a kind of gritty pragmatism about him that can also be as stubborn as gravity itself. That Tasse is able to make this a like-able quality says a lot about his talent as an actor.
Nettie Clearyâ€”played by Tami Wokentinâ€”John Clearyâ€™s wife. Like so many other women of the era, she didnâ€™t have much option outside of being a housewife. Workentin plays her with remarkable strength. She visits her mother quite often . . . family is very important to her. That she and John only had one child says a lot about her relationship with him. Thereâ€™s a connection between John and Nettie, but itâ€™s not what it should be.
Timmy Clearyâ€”played by Nicholas Harazinâ€”A veteran back from the war. John and Nettieâ€™s son. Heâ€™s been away for years and come back a changed manâ€”perhaps better adjusted than he was prior to the war. Itâ€™s only mentioned in passing while heâ€™s not actually in the room, but he had seen the horrors of a concentration camp firsthandâ€”not an easy thing to live with. And Harazin plays a man who has returned from the war with a love for lifeâ€”on remarkably solid footing for someone who has seen the horrors of war. Heâ€™s still battling demons from his life prior to the warâ€”demons that seem a lot more intense than anything heâ€™d confronted overseas.
Itâ€™s a very compelling couple of hours with a family from 60-plus years ago. Wright and company have done a really, really good job here.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatreâ€™s The Subject Was RosesÂ runs through December 12th at the Broadway Theatre Centerâ€™s Studio Theatre. A more concise review of the show runs in this week's Shepherd-Express.