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The Subject Was Roses by Frank D. Gilroy – Off Broadway Theater Review




picture - The Subject Was Roses - Pearl Theatre Company - photo by Sam HoughTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre 

published April 26, 2010 


The Subject Was Roses

now playing Off Broadway at New York City Center 

through May 9


I've never received roses from a love.  From firsthand experience, I know neither the sighs they can induce nor the romance they can create.  Consequently, I can't fathom how it feels to habitually receive them, and then have that pleasure stopped abruptly.  What I do understand, from a purely tactile point of view, is the manner in which the petals can soothe and the thorns can bruise. 


The Pearl Theatre Company's splendid production of Frank D. Gilroy's The Subject Was Roses, a Pulitzer Prize-winning work that debuted in 1964, helps to distill the experience of roses.  In it, the fragrance is expressed in a loving relationship between a father and daughter (a character's memory), and the pain is represented by the dissonance between a husband and wife. But while Gilroy is adept at building a war story around this metaphor, it's the strong performance of the cast that catapult it past a mere concept. 


picture - The Subject Was Roses - Pearl Theatre Company - photo by Sam HoughLiterary symbol notwithstanding, the drama is in no way formulaic.  The plot, about a son who comes home from war to find that the relationship between his parents has grown distant, develops comfortably like a lazy afternoon sipping lemonade on a porch.  The set, usually impeccable in Pearl Theatre Company productions, doesn't disappoint with Harry Feiner's interpretation of a warm, inviting home that is lived-in but well-kept.  The preparation for Timmy's (Matthew Amendt) arrival seems normal enough until we realize that mom Nettie's (Carol Schultz) state of mind isn't.


Always a champion of her son despite his shortcomings, Nettie's last chance at being happy hinges on reuniting with her son.  Her husband John (Dan Daily), a burly man's man who was mesmerized by his wife at first glance, has spent the last several years refocusing his mesmerization on a flurry of hiked skirts.  Torn between lifting his mom's spirits and creating good spirits with his dad, Timmy divides his time between the two.  Equally at ease with both, Amendt recreates magic with Schultz in a captivating dance and generates roughhousing fun with Daily under Amy Wright's crisp direction.  But nothing can prevent the pregnancy of tension that exists in Act One to emerge in Act Two. 


picture - The Subject Was Roses - Pearl Theatre Company - photo by Sam HoughLike a delivery without anesthetic, all the niceties and hushed sentiments spill out to wonderful effect, showcasing the range of the trio.  Something as benign as roses becomes the catalyst for hard truths.  Some of these truths are somber, while others induce hearty laughter. Regardless of the emotion, the cast of The Subject of Roses amplify each nuance to make the weight of receiving roses...or not...tangible to the audience.  Tangible to me, anyway.  I may have yet to receive roses from a man, but this compelling drama, in all its candor, sweetness and jagged edges, helps me to remember that I deserve them.


cindypierre @


photos by Sam Hough


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