The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Subject Was Roses

Her father used to send her roses every birthday — a dozen red roses — never missed — even at the end.— John Cleary
The Subject Was Roses
Frances Conroy, Brian Geraghty, and Martin Sheen
(Photo: Craig Schwartz)
There was a rare reunion at the Mark Taper Forum last night — Martin Sheen, who created the role of Timmy Cleary in this play in 1964 and Frank D. Gilroy, who wrote it. Sheen, now playing the role of the father John Cleary, introduced Gilroy from the stage at the curtain call.

This beloved play, set in 1946, won a Pulitzer for its author. It has only three characters: Patriarch John Cleary (Martin Sheen); Nettie Cleary, the mother (Frances Conroy); and Timmy Cleary, the son (Brian Geraghty). It begins the morning after Timmy comes back from the war and finds himself in the kind of family war he's been embroiled in all of his 21 years. When he went away from home for the first time, he found to his amazement thathe was never sick. The play explores the subject of that sickness.

John is an exuberant Irishman, whose hardscrabble childhood is hidden under a veneer of superficial charm. He's the bride at every wedding but it's only skin deep. He has never told his family he loved them.

Nettie is thoroughly unlikable throughout Act I. A bitter woman, she's turned from her husband to her son. When John reaches out to her after a night of carousing on the town, she rejects him angrily. He responds by telling her he hadn't bought her roses after all; it was their son. She smashes the vase containing the roses.

We see the reasons for that rejection in a lifetime of parsimonious doling out of money and in the unheated lake house. Deep in Act II comes Nettie's monologue: about her loving father who was a musician, about her many suitors but only John had the spark that promised success, about the Great Recession that dashed their hopes, about John as the handsome young man she remembered.

And then there's Timmy who, as his father ruefully says, left a boy and came back a man. Sometimes John forgets that when his temper explodes. Sometimes he doesn't understand it, as when Timmy tells him he left the Catholic Church.

Timmy has more in common with his family than he thinks. He sings with his father. He dances with his mother. But it's time to move on and he has an offer from a classmate with an apartment which brings the play to an explosive climax.

They called plays like this "kitchen sink" theater in the days this was written but Gilroy's way with words and the depth with which he draws his characters defies easy definition. The son leaving home and the grieving parents are universal themes.

It's easy to see why Martin Sheen wanted to revisit this play. It has two great roles for men and he's probably the only actor in history to play them both. Blustering, bullying but quick to fold, Sheen show there's not much difference between the Latino and the Irish. Frances Conroy is realistic and cruel initially but softens as the play goes on and she has her boy to confide in once more. As Timmy, Brian Geraghty displays a delightful flair for song and dance. His final scene with Sheen is heartbreaking. Neil Pepe directs with a feel for nuance. Walt Spangler designed the warm set.

The Subject Was Roses combines the feel of an era with the timelessness of an American classic.

The Subject Was Roses
Playwright: Frank D. Gilroy
Director: Neil Pepe
Cast: John (Martin Sheen), Nettie (Frances Conroy), Timmy (Brian Geraghty)
Scenic Design: Walt Spangler
Costume Design: Laura Bauer
Lighting Design: Rui Rita
Sound Design: Cricket S. Myers
Original Music: Obadiah Eaves
Production Stage Manager: David S. Franklin
Running Time: Two hours, one intermission
Running Dates: February 10-March 21, 2010
Where: Mark Taper Forum, Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles. Reservations: (213) 628-2772.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on February 10.
Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.

Visit Curtainup's Blog Annex
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of The Subject Was Roses
  • I disagree with the review of The Subject Was Roses
  • The review made me eager to see The Subject Was Roses
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

South Pacific  Revival
South Pacific

In the Heights
In the Heights

Sweeney Todd DVD

Playbill Broadway Yearbook


©Copyright 2010, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from