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THEATER REVIEW : Through Rose-Colored Glasses : One-woman show about the Kennedy family matriarch steers clear of the difficult reality in its look at her life and times.

June 02, 1995|T. H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T. H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times.

STUDIO CITY — The idea of using Rose Kennedy as the central figure of a one-woman show seems inevitable. She was on the sidelines of many major events in the 20th Century, in the background behind a husband who was one of the movers and shakers of political and financial affairs (and other affairs), mother of a president and three senators.

It's evident in Elizabeth Garry's "One Perfect Rose," at Two Roads Theatre, that the writer knows Kennedy's nobility, but it's also evident that that's as far as Garry is prepared to go. She has whitewashed Kennedy and her family to the point where the show would be perfect for a junior-high-school assembly.

Kennedy was so much more than Garry and actress Mary Holt are willing to give her credit for. Both writer and actress present this indomitable woman as a well-to-do suburban housewife with the utmost optimism, wisely guiding one of the world's most functional families while adoring her loving husband. Not.

There is drama in Kennedy's story, and in Rose herself, but none in this vapid evening. No mention is made of the emptiness of her marriage, and the brave front she put up. For many years, she and Joseph P. Kennedy kept separate quarters in New York while he was reaffirming his manhood with younger women, and she was moving closer to the church. No mention is made of her noble acceptance of her husband's affair with Gloria Swanson.

Garry, through Rose, says that Joe achieved his dream when he was made ambassador to Great Britain. His dream was actually a Cabinet post in exchange for the money he put into Franklin D. Roosevelt's campaigns. First the stewardship of the Securities and Exchange Commission, then the ambassadorship were all he got.

Rose was a martinet of a mother, almost as rough on the kids as Joe was. She was a woman who accepted her situation because that's where she was meant to be. She was not blind to the foibles of her children--and the boys were very much like their father--nor to the teen-age malfunction and drug abuse of her grandchildren. To this Rose, and to Garry, they were "The Brady Bunch."

The piece, which can hardly be called a play, does a great disservice to the complicated and fascinating family that Rose was born to create, a Camelot fated to crumble. It also does a disservice to the woman herself, with her abundant courage, her unshakable faith and her surpassing intelligence.

Actress Holt and her co-directors, C. J. Schock and W. Morgan Sheppard, join Garry in these flaws. Holt gives a lifeless performance that often sounds as though she's reading the text to a class. Holt never becomes Kennedy. Rose herself, throughout her life, was a more assured actress.

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WHERE AND WHEN

What: "One Perfect Rose."

Location: Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 25.

Price: $15.

Call: (213) 660-8587.

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