In the Dayton Theatre Guild’s commendable production of Frank D. Gilroy’s 1965 Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning World War II-era drama “The Subject Was Roses,” the Cleary family of Bronx, New York is as engrossing, heartbreaking and dysfunctional as ever.
Set over the course of a May weekend in 1946, “Roses” centers on the rocky homecoming of Army serviceman Timmy (Alexander Chilton), who shocks his hardnosed dad John (Geoff Burkman) and doting mom Nettie (Angela Riley) with unexpected habits and beliefs. In fact, much to his parents’ dismay, Timmy isn’t exactly the guileless underachiever who walked out the door with the mission of keeping his country safe and strong. Predictably, war has made him question who he is and what his purpose in life should be. His decision to abandon his faith absolutely infuriates John, a staunch Catholic. Interestingly, Nettie doesn’t necessarily mind Timmy’s agonistic views. She’s more concerned with his drinking and boorish language. But as the wonderfully rich and relatable layers of these troubled, unhappy characters are delicately peeled by director Marcia C. Nowik’s compatible cast, “Roses” fittingly blossoms as a timeless portrait of change and misunderstanding within a wounded home that can only be healed by love.
The excellently authentic and persnickety Burkman embodies the temperamental John, a hard-working, practically uneducated product of the World War I generation, with an easily irritated and frustrated disposition properly masking his inability to communicate. He’s also astute at being harsh without seeming heartless. John scolds Timmy numerous times, but genuine concern dwells amid the sparks. In her firm Guild debut, Riley terrifically expresses the agony, doubt, hurt and regret that has damaged Nettie’s relationship with John, who has been unfaithful. Late in Act 2, with Chilton seated on the floor transfixed on her every word, she truly shines while pensively delivering Nettie’s absorbing monologue detailing her modest upbringing and the chance encounter with John that changed her life for good and bad. Chilton, a knockout last season as Jerry in the University of Dayton’s production of “Zoo Story,” startles at the outset with an oddly calculated demeanor, but his actions are an intriguing maneuver to suggest something is uncomfortably amiss inside Timmy’s world. Bolstered by Burkman and Riley’s ample support, Chilton credibly navigates Timmy’s tender, combative and soul-searching journey with a clear understanding that faults, past or present, cannot be easily remedied.
Additionally, Blake Senseman provides another attractively eye-catching set fashioned here in a quaint, homey sensibility. Costumer Patrick Allyn Hayes counters with fine period attire, especially for Riley. Nick Vanderpool’s lighting design, K.L. Storer’s sound design and Fred Blumenthal’s properties are equally noteworthy attributes of this worthwhile offering.
“The Subject Was Roses” continues through Jan. 26 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Act One: 50 minutes; Act Two: 50 minutes. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $11 for students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit online at www.daytontheatreguild.org