LINDA REITER: AWARD-WINNING 'ROSE' RETURNS TO CHICAGO
You might think that after Linda Reiter received the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Solo Performance as Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy in the Greenhouse Theater Center’s 2016 production of ROSE, there might not be any new ground to cover. However, considering the evolving social era in which we live, the critically-acclaimed production of the Laurence Leamer play, set to open on January 12th, seems even more relevant today than during its Chicago premiere.
ROSE is set in the Hyannis Port living room of the Kennedy family matriarch in the late summer of 1969, a week after the Chappaquidick car crash involving Ted Kennedy that resulted in the death of Mary Jo Koepehne. Based on 40 hours of interviews recorded for her 1974 autobiography, Times to Remember, it is a reflection of the life and times of the proper Irish Catholic woman who had one of the most unique perspectives of the 20th century – alongside her father Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, her marriage to Joseph P. Kennedy, and mother of nine children whose lives were marked by resounding triumphs and devastating tragedy.
In addition to her Jeff award-winning performance as Rose Kennedy, Reiter has been critically-acclaimed for her work in productions with Shattered Globe, where she is an ensemble member, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Goodman Theatre, Court Theatre, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company and Live Bait Theater. Her television credits include: Chicago Med (NBC), Chicago PD (NBC) and The Beast (A&E) and her voice can be heard in over thirty episodes of The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas (Falcon Picture Group).
Linda Reiter joined the conversation on January 2nd to talk about her preparation for the role, working with director Steve Scott and playwright Laurence Leamer, and how the Kennedy family legacy was influenced by this remarkable woman. PODCAST
Refining the script for ROSE with playwright Larry Leamer and director Steve Scott ... “I had been with the script for several months before the first table read …by the time we sat down, I kind of had an idea of her voice and what I was going to do with that. The main thing though — because Larry Leamer was there and willing to make adjustments — was finding transitions and things that just didn't quite work for me. We discussed that. We read it and then we went through it bit by bit and discussed anything that, between myself and Steve Scott, wasn't quite working... Larry was great in making adjustments, doing some rewrites on it, he did a lot of rewrites, actually. ... I did not see (the New York) production or read that script, but apparently it was very different. Even the script we read was very different from the New York production. He had already done rewrites, and so then he did more and it really improved immensely with the table readings.”
Working with Steve Scott ... “I could not have done it without him. I do not know what I look like up there and what I'm doing. I had a sense of it, but he is a great director and he helped immensely... she kind of reaches a catharsis throughout the play. The Kennedy's are supposed to be very staunch... so how far do you take this catharsis? ... Will I cry? Can I cry? That sort of thing. ... As Steve said, ‘This is a play. You have to involve the audience. You have to make it interesting … an important moment in her life.’ So, we took it where it needed to go emotionally."
About the play ... “The play begins in 1969 just a week after Chappaquiddick, after Teddy's involvement with the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick. Very interesting that he did it this way because she's already dealt with the death of three sons and a daughter. They have just had the funeral. He's very upset and he has taken the sailboat out on a sail the day before and he did not come home. So, she is just terrified that something has happened to him either accidentally or intentionally, or he has run away, who knows. On this very same day, she has scheduled an appointment with Mr. Coughlin, who is supposed to be doing her autobiography and their first interview. She kind of forgot about it when all this happened and did not expect him to be coming. … She just starts talking to him and explains to him how all her life she has been a person who hasn't asked questions or has not let her mind go to certain places, to ask questions. This particular day, she is wondering what has brought them to this, to all this tragedy. Why has all this happened? Is there something that she's not seeing that would explain all of this?"
A religious upbringing ..."She was a very independent person, very singular. She went away to school at Sacred Heart Convent School in Holland. The most important thing she says she learned there was her faith and that it is a discipline with her. She keeps very much to herself... and she goes to her faith, with all the deaths in her family and she talks about every time she would go to God. He did not always give her the answers she wanted, she admits, but she always goes to God."
The relationship with Joseph Kennedy, Sr. ... "She discusses how it began, which is very different than how it ended up. As most women, she thought she knew what the marriage would be like. It started out very beautiful. Very happy with the birth of their first child, but things changed rapidly after World War One and he became a different person. She admits that she was going to step away from the marriage, but they didn't do that then. Her father would not let her so she just decided that the only way to handle this, the only way to stay in the marriage with her husband was to be her own person. To decide that ‘This is how I am going to live my life,’ ... very separate from Joe. She knew that was the only way to do it. Be the mother of his children, but do what she wanted to do.”
On the loss of her daughter Rosemary ... “She talks about all of the children she lost. Rosemary was a bit different. She was still around, and yet she was lost. Very tragically. ... One thing I did not know is that Rose was not aware that Joe was doing this, which is just so sad. ... The loss of her daughter is one of the biggest losses throughout the play that she discusses. ... she says that ‘This is not something that the world did to us. This is something that we did to ourselves.’”
Have any Kennedy family members attended ... “It's possible, but I can't say that I knew about it. There was a mysterious guest the first time we did it in Chicago and that's all I can really say about it. ...We were not told who it was, but rumor has it that it was a Kennedy or a relation in some way.”
Rose Kennedy’s lasting legacy ... "Life or lives, or people in general, are not always what they seem to be on the outside. … I don't think she was really understood, or people have an idea what she was about until you walk in her shoes like I have. Maybe you have to consider that when you are dealing with people every day, that everyone has a story in them, some things going on that you don't know about and it is just hard to judge people on the surface. She was a very strong woman, but maybe a lot of people didn't see her that way because she was so quiet, silent and let things go. But she was incredibly strong.”
Edited for length and clarity.
PHOTO CREDIT|JOHNNY KNIGHT
An Intimate Evening with Mrs. Kennedy
January 12th – March 11th
Greenhouse Theater Center
2257 North Lincoln Avenue
Phone: (773) 404-7336