I was nine years old when John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash, a fact which I distinctly remember not because I had any real understanding of who he was but because my mother mourned his death intensely. She, like so many other Americans, has long subscribed to the intense, almost morbid in some ways, fascination with the Kennedy family, with their their successes and losses, their triumphs and terrors.
And it is perhaps this lingering urge to scrutinize that brought distinguished biographer Laurence Leamer’s play Rose not once but twice to the stage at Greenhouse Theater since it debuted in 2016. What makes Learner’s family portrait different, however, is that he places Rose Kennedy at the forefront, the woman undeniably best known for standing in the shadows of her husband and sons. Through this unique focus, we glimpse much more than I, at least, had contemplated before: namely, the ways in which the Kennedy affairs and assassinations America obsessed over were not just news but a daunting reality for this woman.
Linda Reiter (Rose) does justice to this heartbreaking script and story, portraying Rose Kennedy as a strong, determined woman fraught with vulnerabilities and pain she tries to conceal. Through 100 minutes of mostly tragic reflections (tragic because we, like Rose, know how things will end), Reiter remains composed almost the entire time, reminding us of the tremendous endurance that a woman who survives all that she has, from the deaths to the subjugation as a female, must possess.
Yet, for all the noteworthy work that this oft-told tale does to present our story from a new perspective, I still found myself wondering, “is this the most important story to tell?” Perhaps it’s simply because of the play’s quick remount or maybe it’s symptomatic of watching my mother mourn a man she did not know, but this retelling still manifests as a part of the Kennedy infatuation. One which, to my generation, does not seem as paramount as others yet to be shared.
That being said, looking through these Rose-colored glasses offers a new perspective on an old story, one with a much more feminist lens.
Review by Emily Schmidt
Rose continues at the Greenhouse Theater Center through March 11. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreinChicago's Review Round-Up.