Citizen Staff Writer
Back in 1965, when Frank Gilroy was enjoying success with his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Subject Was Roses,” society was changing radically. Youngsters weren’t obeying their elders. Black people wanted to act like white people. Soldiers weren’t heroes anymore.
Bob Dylan had it right. Something was blowing in the wind.
Gilroy wanted America to stop for a minute, take a deep breath and remember an earlier time when everything was changing. He wanted to give the nation’s moral compass a chance to reset itself.
Live Theatre Workshop agrees and has responded with a lean and direct production of “The Subject Was Roses” that will shoot audiences straight into the turmoil of philosophical change at the end of World War II. Chuck Rankin as director gives this production a pacing that feels exactly right with body language, sets and costumes that seem so very 1940s.
On opening night, the audience was rapt watching the Cleary family’s struggles become the metaphor of a country that felt victorious but had no idea what to do next. The values society held before the war didn’t seem to fit anymore. New problems were rising up before the old problems had been resolved.
If we were winners on the world’s stage, why was everything flying apart at home? Where was the joy that comes with triumph?
Bill Epstein personifies that struggle with a brilliantly shaded performance as the father in a three-piece suit. His name is John Cleary and he wears a tie to breakfast.
He’s a church-going man with an obedient wife, Nettie (Cynthia Jeffrey), and a sickly son the war seems to have transformed into a fine young man (Eric Schumacher).
But John still calls the lad Timmy and begins to wonder why Timmy drinks so much. Nettie wonders why her son isn’t the mama’s boy she used to love so much.
Timmy, who came back unscratched from three years of Army duty, doesn’t feel like he was much of a soldier. But the only clothes he has are his military uniforms. So he keeps wearing them even though the war is over.
Rankin finds within the play an amazing amount of resonance for today’s front-page struggles with issues of war and responsibility – and respect. Isn’t anything worthy of respect anymore?
Epstein’s descent from the confident man whose home is his castle becomes so poignant because we have all lived this slide. Americans have always wanted to be loved, but now we are hated – and many citizens would say “with good reason.” The more puffed-up our government acts, the worse it seems to get.
But are these metaphorical roles easier to understand in a family context? LTW is convinced they are.
IF YOU GO
What: Live Theatre Workshop presents “The Subject Was Roses” by Frank Gilroy
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays- Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, to Oct. 14
Where: Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.
Price: $14-$17, with discounts for cash
Info: 327-4242, livetheatreworkshop.org