Mention the name “Kennedy” and almost instantly images of John, Teddy, Bobby, John Jr. or Jacqueline come to mind. But there was, among all the rest, one prominent Kennedy who preferred the background to the limelight. She was Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy, the matriarch of perhaps the most powerful family dynasty in American politics.
When: Through Sept. 25
Where: Greenhouse Theater Center,2257 N. Lincoln
The subject of a best-selling autobiography and several biographies, Rose Kennedy is also the topic of the one-woman Off Broadway stage play, “Rose,” playing through Sept. 25 at Chicago’s Greenhouse Theater as part of the 2016 Solo Celebration Series.
The show’s script, by Laurence Leamer, is based in part on 40 hours of never-published interviews made while Kennedy worked on her ghost-written autobiography. (Leamer is a renowned Kennedy expert, having penned three best-selling tomes: “The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family,” “The Kennedy Men” and “Sons of Camelot.”) “Rose” is set in 1969 at the Kennedy’s Hyannis Port compound, one week after Teddy Kennedy’s infamous car accident on a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Mass., in which Mary Jo Kopechne, a former campaign worker for his late brother Bobby Kennedy, was killed. Rose (played by veteran Chicago actress Linda Reiter) is reflecting on her life through a series of anecdotes in which we come to learn of the family’s triumphs and tragedies. But more importantly, we come to learn about Rose in her own words.
Reiter is no stranger to Chicago stages, having appeared here (25 years at Shattered Globe Theater alone) in some of the city’s most acclaimed companies such as the Goodman Theatre, Court Theatre and Remy Bumppo.
“When I got out of college I first tried New York for a short period, but it was overwhelming for me,” Reiter said. “I came back to Chicago in the early 190s and eventually auditioned for Shattered Globe in 1991. The company’s still going strong and I’m still a member, so that’s all good!”
Reiter, who cites her roles in “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” among her favorites, credits Shattered Globe with reinforcing her passion for the stage.
“At Shattered Globe, it was all about the work and this wonderfully talented group of people. We lived at the theater — and the bar next door where we’d brainstorm all night long. [Laughs] We’ve gotten a little older and don’t drink so much, so there have been changes in the company over the years. But it’s always been about people who like the challenge of creating something as a group that isn’t like anything you’ve seen before. It’s all about taking great stories and telling them in a new way.”
For all the fame and misfortune that befell the Kennedy family, Rose Kennedy has remained a bit of a mystery to most people. She was present at a familial presidential inauguration and state funerals, weddings and birthday celebrations no doubt, but you’d have to carefully survey photos to find her somewhere in the background.
“I see everything but pretend I see nothing” is a most profound line from the play, and Reiter said it encompasses much of Rose Kennedy’s public persona — and the times.
“She talks in the play of how she gave speeches and loved campaigning with her father when she was young, and later with her sons,” Reiter said of the woman whose story evolves over the course of the 90-minute production. “She does talk of how everything changed when she fell in love with Joe Kennedy. They loved each other and then everything was shattered.”
“I read the play and realized Rose Kennedy was someone I knew almost nothing about, except all the very tragic things that happened to her,” said “Rose” director Steve Scott, of his decision to direct the production. “I knew nothing of her life, how she responded to anything. She was a witness to some of the most extraordinary events in history and yet we never really knew her. … I think the audience will learn that Rose was a very complicated woman growing up in a very complicated time. She had to, in a big way, censor herself publicly. She wasn’t this inperturbable mom figure; she felt a lot of strong emotions. But she grew up in an era where women were supposed to do what she did. Today we’d probably say she was being victimized. But back then she saw it as her duty to be flexible and bend to the will of the men around her. She did come to realize later in life that that wasn’t the way to live.”
“She was an extremely strong woman,” Reiter added, “and perhaps not how we would describe a strong woman today. Today’s woman would be someone who’d speak her mind. That was not what was expected of a devoted wife back then. I think this particular production will allow people to really learn about what she went through for this political dynasty, what she gained, and more importantly what she gave up.”