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Review: NEIL SIMON'S ROSE &WALSH WILL STIR THE SOUL AND WARM THE HEART  at FreeFall Theatre Company

Review: NEIL SIMON'S ROSE &WALSH WILL STIR THE SOUL AND WARM THE HEART at FreeFall Theatre Company

Like a warm blanket or the set of a Nancy Meyers film, this cast, this show, has everything we want and everything we need.

"Even a Memory has to move on..."

"There's always a few thunderbolts after the storm..."

As the final play written by the great Neil Simon, Rose & Walsh previously entitled Rose's Dilemma ran in Los Angeles and Off-Broadway in 2003. Originally starring Mary Tyler Moore in early previews, Moore left the production when Simon sent a letter citing her to learn her lines. Neil Simon's works include the very popular Eugene Trilogy (Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound), and other great works including Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, I Ought to Be in Pictures, among many other prolific pieces both onstage and onscreen. Spanning a career writing more than 30 plays and numerous screenplays, Simon has received more Oscar and Tony Award Nominations than any other writer. Simon passed away on August 26, 2018, leaving behind a legacy as one of the great Stage and Screenwriters of his time. Rose & Walsh makes its premiere at freeFall Theatre Company on July 30, 2022, boasting an exceptionally strong cast, this production will be one you want to see multiple times over.

From the top down, the plot of Rose & Walsh portrays the life of Rose Steiner a prolific fiction writer suffering from not only writer's block but debilitating eye-sight. Nearing the later stages of her life Rose is in need of money and the last great novel to ensure comfort as she gets on in years. We see her "friend/lover" in Walsh McLaren, a recently deceased famous writer. The thing about Walsh is he only appears in Rose's mind, therefore no one besides Rose can see him. Walsh is bound and determined to make sure his Rosie is set for the rest of her life, and helps her uncover his final novel written before he died. The only problem that remains is the fact of it being unfinished. Walsh helps her elicit the help of a "Ghost-writer" no pun intended to help her finish the novel. With the help of Gavin Clancy and Arlene (posing as Rose's friend) will Rose finish Walsh's final novel in time to ensure a comfortable life? With twists and turns that will leave you breathless, Rose & Walsh is quintessential Simon at his very best. Much like Nancy Meyers' films (Something's Gotta Give, and It's Complicated,) at its heart, we see examples of great human relationships in fully realized characters, and much like a warm blanket, we want to wrap ourselves in its embrace and even if just for a moment fall in love all over again. It's true what they say, and Neil Simon's Rose & Walsh aims to prove that no matter how far, "You can always go home again."

As Rose Steiner, the great Stephanie Dunnam is in her element and is truly stunning at every turn. We see Rose in all her depths and layers, from an aging writer to a heartbroken "widower" even though she and Walsh never married. Her Rose is fully realized and you feel for her every moment to moment. Having last witnessed Stephanie in freeFall's production of Lion in Winter I for one am glad to see her back on freeFall's stage. Much like Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give, you see her heart on her sleeve and her sharp wit even in Rose's aging years. Sharp as a tack and the perfect blend of an endearing friendship for not only Walsh but Arlene, Stephanie Dunnam was born to play this role.

"You are as real and as permanent as I want you to be."

As Walsh McLaren, Patrick Sullivan returns to the freeFall stage after previously portraying Sunderson in Topher Payne's Perfect Arrangement. Patrick is exceptional here as the brash, endearing Walsh. Like any great relationship between friends, Sullivan and Dunnam's Rose and Walsh are so actualized in every finite interaction, that it's as if they have been friends for a lifetime. Their natural rapport and back/forth play like a symphony, not a note out of place. Each time Walsh enters the house from the beach, you see a character that left the physical but is still very much alive in memory. There is a moment near the end of Act 2 in which you see Walsh in full suit and tie creating a complete juxtaposition to the other times he's seen throughout the play. Bookending the perfect friendship and creating a beautifully realized arc in character development. Patrick is great in vocal delivery, and comedic moments and just like his portrayal as Sunderson in Perfect Arrangement, this will be one I will remember for some time. Each time he spoke I pictured moments where I could see him portraying the father in Fun Home, and I for one would move mountains to see this happen.

"I get lonely sometimes Rose, don't you know any more dead people we can invite over?"

Arlene Moss played by the wonderful Georgia Mallory Guy is the perfect addition to the company. They say it lies in the company you keep, and for Rose and Arlene, it's perfection. Georgia's Arlene is structured, precise, strong-willed, and confident she sets an expectation and follows through. The interesting part about Arlene's character is not what is revealed on the surface, but rather the pain that lies just underneath. The pain contributes to who Arlene has grown to become. The scene in Act 2 between Arlene and Rose will pull at your heartstrings and leave some in tears. I am thrilled to have finally experienced Georgia's exceptional performance on stage having only previously witnessed her behind-the-scenes work as the Artistic Director of ThinkTank Theatre.

Gavin Clancy portrayed by Robert Teasdale is the perfectly rough around-the-edges outsider that is invited into the equation. You see him entering a mess, strung out on life and the idea of failure, and then you see him evolve into a sincere and caring individual. Robert is a great addition to the exceptional company of performers and having never witnessed his work on stage it was a great turn. As the "Ghost Writer" you get a sense Clancy will do something dirty and underhanded to get ahead, but as the story continues, he becomes a fully likable character. Kudos to Robert and his performance as Gavin Clancy.

Technically beautiful Rose & Walsh is stunning from top to bottom. With top-notch Direction by freeFall's Artistic Director Eric Davis and skilled Stage-Management from Sara DelBeato, Rose &Walsh is a fully realized and conceptual masterpiece that is a feast for not only the eyes but the soul as well. Neil Simon's script is sharp and fully actualized at the fine hands of Eric Davis in which even the smallest of details were not left out. With Scenic Design by Tom Hansen and Hansen Scenic, we get a beautiful Beach-side Estate in Bridgehampton perfect for a summer escape. Joseph Oshry's exquisite lighting design adds moments of depth, memory, warmness, and coolness that fully complement Hansen's design and evokes the world in which these characters reside. With Costumes, props, and sound design by director Eric Davis we get the full sense of these characters' lives and it adds the perfect touches to their world. Alex Pinchin adds his elements of illusions and his skills as Master Carpenter to bring the world together.

Rose &Walsh has it all and with technical design and Direction are a standout among productions. The folks at freeFall always raise the bar with their productions both in staging and design and this is no exception, and probably one of the strongest I have seen to date. There is a reason freeFall has in their slogan, "Simply escape awhile," for it's not only an escape from our lives, but freeFall continues to push the envelope, raise the bar and keep them coming back. Like in Field of Dreams, "If you build it they will come," and freeFall Theatre Company does so with gusto and gravitas that is continually unmatched.

Tickets for the exquisitely staged Rose &Walsh can be found by visiting freeFalltheatre.com or by calling the box office at 727-498-5205. Neil Simon's Rose &Walsh and the folks at freeFall Theatre Company invite you to become a part of their story and "Simply Escape Awhile," and you can experience it on-stage now through August 28, 2022. Take it from me, you will be sure glad you did.

"Some things like dying or writing, are best done alone."

"If keeping him means losing my sanity, then I would consider it an even exchange."

Photo Credit: Thee Photo Ninja




From This Author - Drew Eberhard


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Review: NEIL SIMON'S ROSE &WALSH WILL STIR THE SOUL AND WARM THE HEART at FreeFall Theatre Company
August 1, 2022

As the final play written by the great Neil Simon, Rose & Walsh previously entitled Rose’s Dilemma ran in Los Angeles and Off-Broadway in 2003. Originally starring Mary Tyler Moore in early previews, Moore left the production when Simon sent a letter citing her to learn her lines. Neil Simon’s works include the very popular Eugene Trilogy (Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound), and other great works including Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, I Ought to Be in Pictures, among many other prolific pieces both onstage and onscreen. Spanning a career writing more than 30 plays and numerous screenplays, Simon has received more Oscar and Tony Award Nominations than any other writer. Simon passed away on August 26, 2018, leaving behind a legacy as one of the great Stage and Screenwriters of his time. Rose & Walsh makes its premiere at freeFall Theatre Company on July 30, 2022, boasting an exceptionally strong cast, this production will be one you want to see multiple times over.

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