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PlayMakers Repertory Company Review: The Subject Was Roses Is a First-Rate Drama with Crackerjack Characterizations

March 3, 2004 - Chapel Hill, NC:


In the current PlayMakers Repertory Company presentation of New York playwright Frank D. Gilroy's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1964 domestic drama, The Subject Was Roses, J.R. Horne, Tandy Cronyn, and Brandon Michael Smith put on a veritable acting clinic under the guidance of PRC guest director Drew Barr. Crackerjack characterizations by Horne and Cronyn as a badly mismatched middle-aged married couple and by Smith as a young World War II veteran who left home three years ago, at age 18, and finally grew up in the U.S. Army. The boy learns, the hard way, that you really cannot go home again not when mom and dad have transformed their cozy Bronx apartment into a battle zone where unchecked emotions erupt with a regularity that puts Old Faithful to shame.

PRC guest artist J.R. Horne is compelling as John Cleary, a disgruntled hard-drinking coffee salesman who, no matter what his past transgressions against wife and son, can never earn his wife's forgiveness not even for a moment. When their soldier son, Tim, comes home, the best John and Nettie Cleary can do is agree to observe an uneasy truce. But, all too soon, the old resentments reemerge and Tim Cleary finds himself dodging emotional bombshells.

PlayMakers associate artist Tandy Cronyn plays prickly dissatisfied wife and mother Nettie Cleary as a domestic drudge finally rebelling against her husband's chronic indifference to her feelings; and PRC company member Brandon Michael Smith adds a winning portrayal as 21-year-old Tim Cleary, who quickly finds that the battlefields where he finally became a man are less dangerous than the emotional minefield that he must tread daily to avoid antagonizing his emotionally volatile parents.

PlayMakers guest director Drew Barr superbly orchestrates the escalating and increasingly bitter infighting between Nettie and John Cleary, as well as son Tim's growing awareness that unless he finally flees the roost, he will soon be fully enmeshed and probably forced to take sides in this take-no-prisoners struggle between mom and dad.

The PlayMakers production of The Subject Was Roses is enhanced by the substantial contributions of set and costume designer Russell Parkman, lighting designer Peter West, and sound designer M. Anthony Reimer. Parkman has not only neatly subdivided the thrust stage of the Paul Green Theatre into the entrance hall, kitchen, and living room of the Clearys' apartment; but he has also skillfully outfitted the cast in an authentic wardrobe of late 1940s fashions.

Lighting designer Peter West artfully illuminates the action, and sound designer M. Anthony Reimer nicely mixes carefully chosen background music and ambient sound to make this must-see drama even more intense.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents The Subject Was Roses 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/.