Rose Kennedy talks about reality and Camelot at the Greenhouse


Rose remembering the good times*

After Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy spoke her final words Wednesday night in the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., the audience gave six-time Joseph Jefferson Award recipient Linda Reiter a standing ovation. 

Written by Chicago-born Laurence Leamer, this production of the one-woman off-Broadway hit Rose debuted with Steve Scott as the director. Scott is the Goodman Theatre Producer and Artistic Collective Member. It is based on 40 hours of unpublished interviews with the Kennedy family. 

The lights go up revealing a living room filled with period furniture, volumes of family photos on top a coffee table, framed pictures covering every square inch of all flat surfaces and a rotary phone. The time is 1969. An invalid Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. (never seen) is upstairs in the Hyannis Port, MA, home. Rose Kennedy, 79, walks into the room wearing pearls, white slacks, a knit top and flat shoes. 

She begins talking to someone (invisible) who is going to possibly write her biography. Teddy said that she should talk with him. 

This opens a 90-minute window for viewing glimpses of a woman and a famous, sometimes infamous, family that are considered to be American royalty. 

Wrought with anxiety about Teddy (Senator Edward Kennedy), Rose expects him to walk through the door any moment. She switches between answering phone calls and remembering the past.

She reflects on past rights and wrongs…a life of doing what was "right" for the family though possibly not for the individuals in the family. Briefly she reflects about how the innocent young daughter of a beloved politician (John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald), who had a great deal of potential, ended up where she is now. But, she is proud of all her sons' accomplishments and proud of the family place in the world. 

Rose's Journey
Her angst, this day, is focused on what Teddy is going to do. He had driven his car off a Chappaquiddick bridge, leaving his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, for hours to suffocate to death. 

She does not want him to resign from his Senate seat. He carries the family mantle for his three fallen older brothers. He must continue on. 

Where did this all begin? 

When Rose met Joseph P. Kennedy she fell head over heels in love. Their marriage, in 1914, seemed, to her, to be idyllic at first, but then it was anything but. Yet, they had nine children between 1915 and 1932. 

In the late 1930s, husband Joe, who was serving as Ambassador to Great Britain, had his political career cut short. That was a result of him publicly criticizing Eleanor Roosevelt and pressing Britain to support Hitler's Germany. 

Joe Senior's proclivity for other women not only existed, but he made no effort to hide it from his wife and was public about it. Rose, on the other hand, chose to ignore it. She explains that they lived separate lives much of the time and neither provided much nurturing and love for their children. The nannies took care of that. 

The Kennedy family had many successes and they had many tragedies. 

It is clear that Joe Sr. and Rose adored their first born. Joe Sr. planned for Joe Jr. to be President. But Joe Jr. was killed, at the age of 29, in 1944, during a World War II mission. 

After the war, Kathleen, the second-oldest daughter who worked with the Red Cross during the war, married William Cavendish, a non Catholic. Despite the fact that he was heir apparent to be the Duke of Devonshire, the marriage was not accepted by the family...he was not Catholic. He died in 1944 during the War shortly after they married. Kathleen died in a plane crash in 1948 at the age of 28. 

Patricia Kennedy married Peter Lawford in 1954. That union, according to Rose, drove Pat to drink. Daughter Eunice was outspoken. For a woman, that trait was not appreciated by her parents. 

While Rose spoke about the things that John and Bobby did, it is her narrative about her eldest daughter Rosemary that gives the audience a view of the person behind the persona. 


Rosemary Kennedy** before her surgery

Rose Marie "Rosemary" Kennedy was born in 1918. The doctor was not available. A nurse ordered Rose to hold her legs together, forcing baby Rosemary to remain in the birth canal for two hours, depriving her of oxygen. As a result, she was "slow" but beautiful. 

She was educated privately and her parents did not admit to others that she had a low IQ between 60 and 70. 

While Ambassador, her father had his daughters presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Rosemary practiced for hours and hours for the occasion. At 20, she was described as being beautiful. During the ceremony, despite the endless practicing, Rosemary stumbled, though no one appeared to notice. 

While she attended many social events, she was sheltered from the public. With each passing year Rosemary became more assertive and rebellious. By the time she was 23, her father learned of a new procedure that could make her more socially acceptable. 

Without talking to Rose, he took Rosemary to have the surgery…a lobotomy. Rose describes how a doctor tells Rosemary to sing a song as he cuts into her brain. She sang Danny Boy. He stops cutting when she stops singing. "She sang Danny Boy too long," said Rose. 

Rosemary's mental capacity was reduced from a "slow" young beautiful woman to that of a 3-year-old who needed complete care. She was shipped off to a hospital where she would not embarrass anyone. [She died at the age of 86 in Fort Atkinson, WI, in 2005.] 


With the young Rose Kennedy pictured on the wall, she ponders her past and present*

As Rose continues to tell her version of the family history, one gets the sense that she knows how her husband and she shaped the family and their deeds. Yet she holds on to Camelot, believing that will be the story which lives on. 

Linda Reiter performed at top speed and superbly throughout the no-intermission 90-minute play. Many of her mannerisms are reminiscent of Rose. 

Use of photo projections on the back wall as Rose talks about a specific photo was not only helpful with content for the story but it also helped to engage the audience. 

The only noticeable but somewhat minor wrinkle was about three-quarters into the story. The flow of the narration was a bid confusing. It was unclear whether Rose was talking to the biographer or for her own purpose. 

This play presents an intimate look into a family whose name everyone knows and whose history much fewer know. It is the story of a culture that was hidden from the masses...there was no internet …there were no cell phones…the attitude of the press about the private lives of public officials was more "hands-off." 

Regardless of ones interest in politics, position on women's role in society or age, this is a play not to be missed. 

Part of the Greenhouse Theater Center's Solo Celebration which runs through February 2017, Rose will run through September 25, 2016.

*Photos by Johnny Knight
**Source JFK Library 



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