It's all in the family at the Purple Rose

By Donald V. Calamia

Families. We all have them, and for the most part, we struggle through a frustrating relationship with them for most of our lives. After all, they're usually the source of our greatest joys and our most horrendous memories - which probably explains why families are often the fodder for many of our most popular comedies and dramas.

Such is the case with the Cleary family - 21-year-old Timmy, who has just returned unharmed from World War II, and his parents John and Nettie - who are the focus of "The Subject Was Roses" now playing at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea.

Written by Frank D. Gilroy and first staged on Broadway in 1964, this Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning drama proves that the more society changes, the more we humans stay the same.

Timmy, back home in the West Bronx, now has another battle on his hands: that of the ongoing war between his parents. Once a sickly child who knew he was a disappointment to his cold and impersonal father - yet the source of overabundant love and attention by his ever-doting mother - Timmy discovers that the troubles he left behind as an 18-year-old have only gotten worse three years later.

Both parents put on happy faces to celebrate their son's return, of course, but a thoughtful gesture - the purchase of a dozen red roses for his mother - shatters the truce and rips opens old wounds. Will the truth tear the family apart? Or make it stronger?

The concept of family is popular at the Purple Rose, as several excellent tear-and-laugh filled peeks at the American family have been produced recently, from the Whitfields of "The Glass Menagerie" in late 2005 to the very successful return of the Soady family in "Escanaba in Love." But it also describes the philosophy of the theater itself. That's especially evident on stage where we find three familiar and very welcome faces in the roles of the Cleary family.

Recent Wilde Award-winners Grant R. Krause and Patrick Michael Kenney are reunited, this time as father and son. They became a well-oiled machine in "Guest Artist," and they remain so in this production. Kenney is especially adept at channeling Krause's speech patterns, which strongly reinforces their familial relationship in the play.

Michelle Mountain perfectly navigates the various emotional minefields that exist between her and the men in her life. (If there's a problem, it's this: The young-looking and energetic Nettie seems more like Timmy's older sister than his mother; a hint of grey hair might better delineate her character's age.)

Solidifying the family aspect of the production is the professional debut of director Quintessa Gallinat who joined the theater in 2001 as an apprentice. It's a strong first effort, with all of the story's beats well handled. (Her organic scene changes are especially well thought out and executed.)

All technical elements - set design by Bartley H. Bauer, lighting design by Dana White, costumes by Christianne Myers and sound by Joel Klain - are - as usual - excellent.

'The Subject Was Roses'

Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St., Chelsea. Wed.-Sun, through March 17. Tickets: $25-$35. For information: 734-433-7673 or HYPERLINK "http://www.purplerosetheatre.org"

The Bottom Line: Excellence continues at the Purple Rose!

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