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Review: Peterborough Players’ ‘Rose’

  • Carolyn Michel in "Rose" running at the Peterborough Players through Sunday. Courtesy Photo

  • ‘Rose’, staring Carolyn Michel is the final show of the Peterborough Players season and runs through Sunday. Courtesy Photo

In the Reviewer’s Chair
Published: 9/11/2019 1:46:14 PM

The one-woman show “Rose” by Martin Sherman deals with a blend of fact and fiction the same way “Forrest Gump” does. In this case though, Forrest Gump is an eighty-year-old Jewish woman sitting shiva for reasons she will explain to you only if you listen to her entire life story and that’s just the start of what this wonderful play has to offer.

This could be a life someone has lived, it is certainly grounded in reality and real events, though the titular character herself is all fiction. Simply put, Rose’s life is mesmerizing. She grew up in the Ukraine, survived life in Nazi-occupied Poland, escaped on the S.S. Exodus, went on to own a hotel named after her, had an affair with a man twenty years her junior. She attempted to summon, through rather unconventional methods, the spirit of her dead husband so he could possess her and guide her. Found a God, left a God, found a God again, and a whole dizzying array of other beguiling moments.

“Maybe there’s a certain joy to not belonging.” Rose says towards the end of the play, in truth having belonged and not belonged her entire life. She has shifted constantly, within location and within herself. Rose’s life is one rife with pain, but that doesn’t define her character in the slightest. She is a thoroughly remarkable and spirited woman, incidentally lucky and intermittently unlucky and that exchange is what makes the play so very enjoyable. Act one ends with startling melancholy and act two begins with Rose eating ice cream and chewing pills which just epitomizes that as much tragedy as there is, there is also immense humor and gentleness as well once she gets to describing the people she loves.

The whole play is told from Rose to the audience from the wooden bench where she sits shiva – the week-long Jewish tradition for mourning the dead. And it rather feels like she is speaking right to you. As if you’re sitting right next to her in the same room, a few old friends enjoying each other’s company.

Carolyn Michel plays Rose with an immensely captivating sort of companionship and comradery. She is lively and utterly splendid.

Gus Kaikkonen’s scenic design is wondrously gorgeous in its simplicity, the bare extended branches of a tree with light bulbs dangling all around, a cyclorama at the back of the stage on which lighting designer Adam Sowers paints a symbolically complex, mood ring-esque watercolor as Rose tells her story. Blues when she’s on the open sea sailing towards opportunities she doesn’t yet know exist, red as she describes the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto. The light bulbs brighten and then quickly go out as she decides she’d rather not contemplate certain undesirable memories any further.

The storytelling on Sherman’s part as the playwright is stunning and on Michel’s part as the storyteller is enthralling. The play runs nearly two hours, but it certainly does not seem so. It seems merely as if you’ve just sat down to have a chat with an old friend and the time has just gotten away from you completely.

“Rose” is showing in a limited run at the Peterborough Players, one week only from Wednesday through Sunday, and is the sort of theatrical experience not to be missed.


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