The Subject Was Roses
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
April 17, 2010
I've been thinking a lot about war plays lately. In the early part of the last decade, we saw, once again, an influx of "off to battle plays." As the decade wore on and the war started winding down, we began to see "soldiers come home" plays emerging. In recent memory, we've seen plays like Bekah Brunstetter's Oohrah, and Craig Lucas's Prayer for My Enemy, which dealt with the wars that begin at home after the overseas war ends. Frank D. Gilroy's The Subject was Roses fits right in with these.
Addressing World War II, It was written in 1964, a number of years after the war had ended. And yet it feels strikingly relevant today. Especially in Amy Wright's emotionally charged production for the Pearl Theatre Company.
Pearl Resident Acting Company members Dan Daily and Carol Schultz star as John and Nettie Cleary, a seemingly happy older couple whose son Timmy (Matthew Amendt) has just returned home from fighting in Europe. He's changed too much overseas—he's started drinking and cursing—which disturbs Nettie, but pleases Dan. As the squabbles drag on—over a variety of subjects—Timmy ends up getting caught in the middle.
Wright's staging in the three-quarter thrust space (though performed to the proscenium) is mightily effective (any seat is great, thanks to Harry Feiner's pretty, cramped set), and there's something about seeing a ceramic vase shatter and have shards fly into your lap that is just astounding.
Amendt makes an impressive Pearl debut and shows that he is a very promising newcomer. Daily is believable as the working class man who just wants to make good for his family. Schultz is heartbreaking. Then again, the whole production is heartbreaking, thanks to the chemistry amongst the actors.
Daily and Schultz are easily believed as a long-married couple, desperately trying to hold onto the connection that has all but vanished.
Once again, the Pearl proves itself indispensable. Artistic director J.R. Sullivan has had a great first season, and their new digs at City Center proved to be a great fit. I can't wait 'til next season.