ROSE'S DILEMMA theatre review

by Dick Kerekes
ABET (Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre ) opened the Florida premier of Neil Simon’s latest play, Rose’s Dilemma. This play opened in California with Jane Alexander in the lead, then went on to New York. Simon is considered the world’s most successful living playwright, and he and Mr. Shakespeare probably have more plays produced in a year than any 20 playwrights you can name.
The setting is an expensive beach house in the Hamptons of New York. ABET’s set by a new designer, Jennifer Fortune, is lovely, looks expensive and even has a view of a gorgeous cloudy blue sky.
It is the story of Rose Stern, a 65 year old woman who had been a writer all of her life, and in fact won a Pulitzer Prize. Several dilemmas in her life will be forthcoming as the play progresses, but the immediate one is financial. You see she has limited income now, but expensive tastes, like four closets full of fancy clothing, a taste for lots and lots lobster (she eats 2 or 3 at a sitting), and the love of fresh cut flowers all over the house.(Not mentioned as an expense but you can imagine the taxes on this place in New York)
Her other immediate dilemma is the presence of her former lover of many years, well known detective novelist Walsh McClaran. The dilemma is Walsh has been dead for five years and Rose “sees” and talks with his ghost!! The audience can see him but of course others in the play cannot.
Walsh just pops in at various times, and he and Rose even engage in intimate sex, of the ghostly variety. It seems that Walsh has been in some kind of limbo land and allowed roam, but those that run the hereafter have told Walsh is it time to move on to another final destination, and he won’t be fooling around with Rose any longer. Now Walsh is a nice guy and he wants Rose to continue her life style, so he tells her where he hid an unfinished novel (unfinished except for 20 pages). He wants her to hire a young writer and to finish it and sell it. Walsh was so popular, it is sure to be a best seller and a financial windfall for Rose.
Enter a young writer, Clancy, who has written one book several years ago, but has otherwise earned a modest living since as a mechanic. There is one final character who I have not mentioned who has been in the household since the opening curtain. An attractive thirty four old blond, Arlene has been Rose’s protegee or so it seems (we learn more about her later but I don’t want to revel too much and spoil it for you). Rose negotiates with Clancy on the book, with Walsh urging Rose on to butter him up so he will write rest of the book. Naturally, with a ghost around that only one person can see and talk with, you get those odd moments when others in the room wonder who Rose is talking too when see seem to speak to empty spaces.
Act II, I can’t tell your much about, to write anything would be too much of a spoiler because as you would expect in most plays, things do not happen as the characters planned them to occur.
Pherbia Engdahl makes her Florida debut as in the very demanding role of Rose. She is on the stage practically the entire show, and is very believable and likable. ABET’s intimate stage allowed Ms. Engdahl to say her lines in a very conversational manner and we very much felt like we were actually sitting in her house with her. She brings an impressive resume of acting and directing from South Bend Indiana and you will be see more of her since she has now retired to this area.
Larry Fairall, as Walsh, makes a great dead guy, opps, excuse me I mean ghost, He has a quick warm wit and you can see why Rose was so much in love with him. Larry does off beat roles so well. I remember his guardian angel in It’s a Wonderful Life and his ninety year old poet in Night of the Iguana.
James Bennett is perfectly cast as Clancy. This talented actor did his first stage role ever in 2007 and already has done three shows, Rounding Third, Biloxi Blues and Frankenstein at Limelight in St. Augustine. His wife Amy is an avid supporter of his theatre endeavors so you are going to see more of him at theatres all over the North Florida area.
Maggie Martin is back on the ABET stage for a second time. She was in the comedy Rear End a couple of seasons ago. The role of Arlene really shows off her talents, especially in ACT II, she has some very good dramatic moments as she reveals secrets of her past.
This script by Neil Simon was loosely based on the 30 year relationship of Dashiell Hammett (creator of Sam Spade and The Thin Man), and Lillian Hellman (Little Foxes & The Children’s Hour). Artist Director Celia Frank read the script and loved it. That is evident in the sensitive direction by Celia, balancing the serious moment s in the play with the humor that Simon is noted for. My companion said that this was the best Simon play she has ever seen. I overheard one women saying as she left, that she did not know whether to laugh or cry. I enjoyed Rose’s Dilemma, but then I probably have seen every Simon play over the years always liked all of his work even his more serious offerings.
Kudos to Bryan Frank for the lighting design and the great scene change music. Kudos as well to Stage Manager Szabo directing the back stage traffic. I do have one suggestion. At the start of the show, Arlene says Rose will have to stop buying fresh cut flowers, so we have to assume the flowers that are on the stage are fresh. Well fast forward scene 3 in Act II, over 4 weeks later yet the same flowers are on the table and the china cabinet? Fresh flowers don’t last that long, they need to be changed.
All performances at the Adele Grage Cultural Center, 716 Ocean Blvd, Atlantic Beach Florida, call 249-7177 and visit their excellent web-site at The show closes May 15th.