THEATER BEAT

 

It's well acted, but 'Roses' shows age

Frank Gilroy's "The Subject Was Roses" opened on Broadway in 1964 and won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for best new drama. While the years haven't necessarily been unkind to the play, the story noticeably creaks and groans today under the weight of time and critical baggage.

The West Coast Ensemble's revival at El Centro Theatre is an assuredly acted and directed production that can't quite conceal some of the play's arthritic contrivances. Just home from World War II, Timmy (Danny Araujo) receives the royal treatment from his parents (Peter Karlin and Ferrell Marshall), who dote on their only son with a competitive spirit that hints at marital tension just below the surface.

The family's dysfunctionality explodes in the second act, when Timmy attempts to declare his independence from his parents by rejecting their Catholic faith and then moving out of their Bronx apartment. Repressed feelings and resentment surge to the fore, throwing the fragile family trinity into disarray.

With its theme of Catholic guilt and alcoholism as destructive agents of the domestic fabric, "The Subject Was Roses" often scans like imitation Eugene O'Neill. The mother's self-sacrifice to her husband and son may have seemed virtuous decades ago, but today it just feels quaint. And the father's egomaniacal tirades merely come off as constipated, pre-counterculture machismo.

Director Claudia Jaffee and her admirable cast keep the play's emotional vectors clean and spare, rendering the family melodrama with pinpoint precision.But keeping Gilroy's old-fashioned rose garden in bloom is a losing battle, requiring more magic than any cast could possibly muster.

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David Ng

"The Subject Was Roses," El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro, Hollywood. 8 p.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays. Ends Sept. 18. (323) 460-4443 or www.westcoastensemble.org/. $15. Running time: 2 hours.

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