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PlayMakers Repertory Company Preview: In The Subject Was Roses, a Son Becomes A Referee for His Bickering Parents

February 24, 2004 - Chapel Hill, NC:


From February 25 until March 21, PlayMakers Repertory Company will present New York playwright Frank D. Gilroy's prize-winning Broadway hit, The Subject Was Roses, in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Center for Dramatic Art. Set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, this powerful domestic drama chronicles the bittersweet homecoming of young WWII veteran Timmy Cleary, once sickly and immature but now robust and all grown up. Cleary returns his home in the Bronx to readjust to a changing world and reunite with his family, but he finds another battlefield on the homefront, because his unhappy parents, John and Nettie, are constantly at each other's throats.

PlayMakers guest director Drew Barr says, "The play tells the story of the weekend in May of 1946 after Timmy Cleary (Brandon Michael Smith) returns home from fighting with the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II to his parents' apartment in the Bronx. Over the course of two days, we see the attempts of Timmy, his father John (J.R. Horne), and his mother Nettie (Tandy Cronyn) to reestablish old connections and to forge new ones."

Barr has directed the Off-Broadway premieres of The Typographer's Dream by Adam Bock and This Passion Thing by Steve Murray and the Off-Broadway revivals of Christmas on Mars and Self-Torture and Strenuous Exercise, both by Harry Kondoleon.

At PlayMakers, Drew Barr previously directed Donald Margulies' Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy of marriages on the rocks, Dinner with Friends. He recently staged Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor for Portland Stage Company in Maine; and earlier this season, he directed Molière's Tartuffe to open the Cleveland, Ohio-based Great Lakes Theater Festival's 42nd season.

Brandon Michael Smith has already appeared in two Playmakers productions this season. He played the King of France in British director Mark Wing-Davey's highly imaginative new interpretation of William Shakespeare's King Lear, and Smith also appeared in the American premiere of British playwright Simon Bent's stage adaptation of John Irving's novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Guest artist J.R. Horne will makes his PRC debut in The Subject Was Roses. His Broadway roles include Judge Hathorne in Sir Richard Eyre's production of The Crucible, starring Liam Neeson and Laura Linney; and appearances in Inherit the Wind with George C. Scott, Abe Lincoln in Illinois at Lincoln Center, and The Show-Off with Pat Carroll.

PlayMakers associate artist Tandy Cronyn most recently played Mrs. Meany/Mitzi Lish in A Prayer for Owen Meany. She also appeared in PlayMakers' critically acclaimed productions of Dinner with Friends, Our Town by Thorton Wilder, The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman, and Wit by Margaret Edson.

Director Drew Barr's production team for The Subject Was Roses includes set and costume designer Russell Parkman, lighting designer Peter West, and sound designer M. Anthony Reimer.

The Subject Was Roses made its Broadway debut May 25, 1964 at the Royale Theatre and later transferred to four other theaters before closing on May 21, 1966, after 832 performances. The original cast, directed by Ulu Grosbard, included Jack Albertson as John, Irene Dailey as Nettie, and Martin Sheen as Timmy. The Subject Was Roses won the 1965 Tony Award® for Best Play, the 1965 Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, and the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Ulu Grosbard also directed the award-winning 1968 film of The Subject Was Roses, which starred Jack Albertson as John, Patricia as Nettie, and Martin Sheen as Timmy. Albertson won a 1969 Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and Neal was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

"The Subject Was Roses is one of those plays that I've known about for so long that I thought I knew it until I read it," confesses Drew Barr. "Probably in high school, I saw a scene from it or heard a monologue because I knew that there was a climactic scene between a father and son in it. I knew there was a movie of the play and that Patricia Neal was in it, but I had no idea that Jack Albertson won an Academy Award for his performance and that it was a breakthrough role for a young Martin Sheen. Only after reading the play several times did I take a look at the movie."

Barr adds, "The thing that made me want to direct The Subject Was Roses was the fact that all of my preconceptions about the play were contradicted by the matter-of-factness of its language and story. I was struck by its lack of pretense, its lack of sentimentality. There is a core of honesty and truth about the play that transcends any sense of theatrical nostalgia attached to the time period of its setting as well as the time period of its creation. I was very interested in trying to get close to that human core."

In reviewing the original Broadway production of The Subject Was Roses, The New York World Telegram wrote, "Frank D. Gilroy is a major playwright ... to the most profound depths of the human heart that's how far Gilroy takes us. Along the way he blends the humor and poignancy of family relationships into a play as beguiling as it is honest."

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents The Subject Was Roses Wednesday-Saturday, Feb. 25-28, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 29, at 2 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday, March 2-6, 9-13, and 16-20, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 7, 14, and 21, at 2 p.m. in the Paul Green Theatre in the UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Dramatic Art. $10-$40. 919/962-PLAY (7529), e-mail prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or visit http://www.playmakersrep.org/. Note: There will be sign-language interpretation, audio description, Braille programs, and large-print programs at the March 5 performance. PlayMakers Repertory Company: http://www.playmakersrep.org/news/index.cfm?nid=12. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=3202. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063654/.