The most exciting thing about seeing The Subject Was Roses at the Mark Taper Forum is the chance to witness the great Martin Sheen on stage. By now, those who have been following the buzz about the show know that Sheen was first cast in the play in its Broadway debut in 1964, in the role of young WW II soldier Timmy Cleary. Now he’s playing that character’s father, in a powerhouse performance that reminds us of his moving turn as America’s favorite fictional President on the hit television series West Wing. Sheen is a pleasure to watch on screen or on stage, a powerhouse of emotional range with devilish hints of dapper-Dan charm. If not for his presence in the production, it wouldn’t be worth the price of admission.
Frank D. Gilroy’s play isn’t a bad one, it’s just an old story that fails to resonate with modern audiences. When young Timmy Cleary (a very capable Brian Geraghty) comes home from war, he discovers that another war has been raging in his household since he left nearly three years ago. His parents just aren’t happy and they’re looking to their newly returned son to heal old wounds. Frances Conroy plays Nettie Cleary, the put-upon wife who craves attention but is queen of the guilt-trip and an expert at the disappointment dance. When Timmy comes home, she’s overzealous in catering to him, but instantly let down when he doesn’t meet her every expectation. John is also a parental and spousal disaster, boozing it up with his son one minute, chiding him for excessive drinking the next. He treats Nettie like a chilly business partner, constantly reminding her he’s not made of money. Though Timmy’s homecoming should be a source of joy for this splintering couple, his presence aggravates an already volatile domestic situation.
The sad truth is that we don’t feel like there’s all that much to complain about in this scenario, simply because the story remains planted firmly in a bygone era. Sure, mom and dad could be happier and sonny-boy could be more motivated, but in this age of Hollywood marriages gone terribly awry and guys coming home from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in far worse condition that little Timmy Cleary, the play fails to land any truly eye-opening emotional blows.
Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Avenue, L.A. Tuesday to Saturday 8 p.m., Saturday 2:30 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m., through March 21. Tickets are $20-$65.00. 213.628.2772 or www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.
Mirror Contributing Writercopy@smmirror.com