Mary Manning’s monologue about JFK’s mother Rose Fitzgerald is charming, chilling and challenging. Go, Lovely Rose tells the fascinating story of the 17-year-old Rose Fitzgerald. Siobhan Gallagher plays the young Rose to perfection. The play begins with Rose sitting at her desk reading a letter and smiling into the distance. She is over the moon because not only has she graduated top of her class but has been offered a place at the prestigious Wellesley College. She holds the letter proudly aloft as she skips around the room. Comically she adopts different accents appropriate to the subjects she will be studying, so for The History of Socialism, she mimics a German accent for English Literature a posh English one. Rose declares that she will be an independent woman and that her ambition is to be the first female president of the United States of America. So far so charming. But then we get a chilling moment of peripeteia. For her father John Fitzgerald, Mayor of Boston announces one evening that he has been speaking with Archbishop O’Connell. He has informed John that Wellesley College is unsuitable for Boston Irish Catholic girls as they will be corrupted by Protestants. And so between them, they decide that Rose shall go to the Sacred Heart of Jesus College run by Catholic nuns. It is this life-changing moment that Go, Lovely Rose so compellingly explores.
I’ve mentioned the set. It’s a table, a chair and two pieces of paper and that’s it. Clearly drawing on the influence of Samuel Beckett, director Gavin McAlinden forces us to focus on Rose and only Rose. Apart from that, there are the superb animations projected onto the screen above Rose’s head. These are by Paul Donnellon who worked on “When the Wind Blows” by Raymond Briggs. His animations for this play are equally striking. His evocations of the young Rose on the beach, or the grim-faced Archbishop O’Connell are spot on, but the most powerful is the one of the famine ship crossing the Atlantic in the 1840s which features a massive black cloud enveloping the entire ship, not for nothing were these called coffin ships.
Thinking aloud Rose comes to terms with her loss. She knows that her grandmother had 12 children and died having the 13th. As she laconically notes in Irish American families “men are men and women are cows”. She fantasizes about standing up to her father by boldly declaring that she has decided that she does not wish to be a cow. Acknowledging that she will not be studying politics and history with her friends at Wellesley but needlework and dusting at Sacred Heart College, she vows that she will be the number one mother and homemaker in America. From an early age, she has had her eye on Joe Kennedy. They married in 1914. They had nine children. The play ends with a series on very moving photos/film footage of the Fitzgerald Kennedy family together on holiday and at JFK’s inauguration. Lovely Rose is there, a proud mother, but equally an incomplete life. It’s a sobering reminder that for every advance there is a price to pay. And it’s women, like Rose Fitzgerald, who have all too often paid that price with their lives.
Review by John O’Brien
1907: vivacious, idealistic and in the prime of youth – seventeen-year-old Rose Fitzgerald dreams of attending Boston’s prestigious Wellesley College. But things are never straightforward for the daughter of the politically ambitious “Honey Fitz”, entwined in Boston’s Catholic Lace Curtain. This dramatic monologue explores this important moment in the life of the mother of the famous Kennedy family.
Mary Manning was a leading playwright with Dublin’s Gate Theatre in the 1930s before immigrating to the US and co-founding the influential Poet’s Theatre.
This is the first time her work has been seen in the UK since 1937.
Go, Lovely Rose
by Mary Manning
Directed by Gavin McAlinden
The London Irish Centre, Blacks Road, Hammersmith. W6 9DT