THEATRE ‌ War of the Roses 

The Village Playhouse strikes a blow for mama's boys with a period drama

click to enlarge Michael Easler and Adam Miles inhabit a WWII-era drama at the vp - LESLIE MCKELLAR
  • Leslie McKellar
  • Michael Easler and Adam Miles inhabit a WWII-era drama at the vp

The Subject Was Roses
Running through March 10
The Village Playhouse
730 Coleman Blvd, Mt. Pleasant

It's 1946 and a war is raging. Old wounds are reopened and alliances shift as family members fight against each other. This psychological conflict is waged between a son and his parents in a little house in the Bronx. Each combatant is fighting for some personal freedom.

Mr. and Mrs Cleary don't mean to fight. They're excited when their son Timmie (Adam Miles) returns home from World War II. They throw a $100 party for him and do everything they can to make him feel welcome. Dad (played by Michael Easler) takes him to a game; Mom (Lucille Keller) makes him waffles, his favorite breakfast. But three years in the Army have changed Timmie. He's outgrown all his old clothes, his religious beliefs have been shaken, and he prefers bacon and eggs.

The characters in Frank D. Gilroy's autobiographical play aren't unlikable; the actors highlight the witty, humorous aspects of the script, and Easler makes the antagonistic dad particularly sympathetic. But as the mother and father grow jealous of the bond each has with their son, their painful flaws become apparent -- there are no perfect heroes in these petty hostilities.

Mother Nettie wants to hold onto Timmie so tight that she literally pinches him, takes her waffle-making way too seriously, and frequently urges her son to make guilt trips to see his physically challenged grandpa. Mr. Cleary likes his coffee strong, his women loose, and his alcohol -- well, let's just say he likes his alcohol. Timmie has all the tact of a two-year-old, asking his parents questions that bring up some ugly responses.

All the action takes place on a finely detailed period set designed by Keely Enright and decorated by Julie Ziff. It's authentic down to the working fridge and the newspaper that wraps Nettie's cherished roses. Technical Director Dave Reinwald also handles the lighting, which suffers from a couple of slow cues and a pale white light in one part of the living room. It makes the actors look ghostly pale, which creates an effective subtext when Mr. Cleary talks about what might have been if he'd gone to war himself, but doesn't do anyone else any favors.

Director Enright makes good use of the stage, keeping the 40-year-old play fresh and lively. Only one piece of blocking -- when Nettie and Timmie fall down and sit on the floor -- goes on for too long.

The actors have memorable chances to develop their characters; Keller shows some powerful acting chops when Nettie reminisces about meeting her husband. In a couple of other moments she's hard to hear, but she always holds the audience's attention. Miles' acting has improved since he starred in last year's Arsenic and Old Lace at the Footlight Theatre, appearing more confident on the stage as Timmie struggles to recover from his hangovers and hangups.

When John Cleary threatens or swipes at his son, the part seems intended for a bigger, brawnier actor than the slim Michael Easler. The rest of the time he's utterly believable in the role.

This is a strong production with a witty script and intelligent acting, recommended for '40s music lovers (for the great incidental tunes) and 20-something momma's boys still living with their parents. But be warned. When the characters aren't boozing, they're either talking about eating or drinking or contemplating it. Grab a bite or hit the bar before The Subject was Roses starts, or you'll be left feeling mighty thirsty.


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