For those of us who have lived much of our lives in the Kennedy Century, “The Color of Rose” is a poignant revisit with the fabled family that always seemed an extension of our own.
Kathrine Bates’ fascinating play, told through the eyes of the matriarch, Rose, is a no-holds-barred exposition of the triumphs and the tragedies that are so familiar to us. But Bates has chosen to present this woman who was larger than life as a triptych — three distinct actresses who portray Rose Kennedy as a work in progress.
Shelby Kocee Is the young Rose, innocent and wide-eyed, enthralled with her husband and her children, excited to learn about the momentous events in her future. Lia Sargent is the middle-aged Rose, bitter and angry, trapped in a marriage to a philandering, absentee husband and surviving the rebellions and the tragedies that mark the lives of her children. And finally, there is the older Rose, portrayed by the magnificent Gloria Stroock, who has come to terms with her life, reminiscing about the good times, choosing to “forget” much of the rest, such as Joe’s affair with Gloria Swanson and his nine-year relationship with the family’s secretary, and always observing her own commandment: “Never let them see you cry.”
The three actresses, amazingly, look like the same woman at different stages of her life, and they are equally adept in their portrayals of this strong, complicated wife and mother. As the two younger Roses help the older Rose prepare for a Mother’s Day television interview, they prod her to deal with the vicissitudes of her life and to respond, no matter how reluctantly, to the questions the interviewer will undoubtedly ask.
“There is a price to pay for being a Kennedy,” the older Rose acknowledges. “And now there is time for second thoughts and regrets.”
“I rail at God’s plan for me,” the young Rose declares. She hadn’t planned to be the “happy little homemaker” when she fell in love at first sight with the handsome young Joe Kennedy. But, she says, “you have to take the burdens with the blessings.”
Among the burdens, and the regrets, is her oldest daughter, Rosemary. Born “a little slow,” she was an embarrassment to her father, who, unbeknownst to Rose, authorized the lobotomy that turned her into a hollow shell. “We want only winners in this family,” Joe said.
“Joe left nothing to chance,” Rose says, speaking of her husband’s machinations to launch Jack’s political career. “He had seemingly unobtainable ideals for Joe Jr. and Jack.”
“I ran motherhood like a business,” the older Rose observes. “And others would tell me, ‘Rose, you are a wonder!’” But, she responds, “What choice did I have?”
While middle Rose chides her for creating “revisionist history,” the older Rose comments that “good times look better at a distance.” Her aim, she says, is to leave a “legacy of dignity” and to have her grandchildren continually asking themselves, “Would Grandma Rose be proud of how I’m living my life?”
Kathrine Bates, who directed this production as well as scripting it, has done an extraordinary job bringing Rose to life, and set designer Jeff G. Rack has dressed the stage with elegant chairs and accouterments, but the evening truly belongs to Gloria Stroock, who, at 87, is an absolute wonder to behold!
“The Color of Rose” will continue at Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre on the Beverly Hills High School campus, 241 Moreno Dr., in Beverly Hills, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at 8 p.m., through Dec. 21. There will also be one 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Dec. 11. Call (310) 364-3606 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.