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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Remembering Rose Pickering

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They got married onstage—more than a dozen times in the course of 41 years of studying, living and acting together. There first assignment for an acting class as graduate students at Penn State had them in bed together—and they had just met. But in remembering his late wife and partner, Rose Pickering, Jim Pickering recalls a stage moment, among many, that illustrated her complete dedication to her craft.

Rose was playing the title role in Miss Lulu Bett back in the early '80s and "the stage business" required her to make a real apple pie while flirting onstage with her offstage husband.

"While cutting up the apples, during one performance, she sliced her hand—a fairly substantial cut," the veteran Rep actor recalls. "She discarded the apple she had bled on, wrapped her hand in a towel, selected a new apple, and completed both the scene and the pie. It was I who practically flipped out, and she who remained calm and focused."


Rose Pickering died at age 64 last November at the Thanksgiving holiday after battling cancer. She was The Rep's longest serving actress in the resident company, having played a wide range of roles locally for over 35 seasons, a number with her husband, Jim. While she took a leave of absence in 2010 to undergo medical treatment, her spirit remains at The Rep to this very day (Amid the current production of Othello, a costume Rose wore in The Three Sisters stands prominently in the lobby).


On Monday, April 23, Jim and a host of actors, directors and others who've worked with the multi-facetted actress will celebrate at (where else?) the Rep. Rose will once again take center stage as her career, onstage and offstage, is remembered and feted by many of her colleagues and friends.


One of these is another veteran Rep actor and director Laura Gordon. "Working with Rose was always very professional...she didn't goof around," Gordon recalls. "With Rose, it was always, passionately about the work. Some of my fondest memories of my time at the Rep with Rose was the time spent in her dressing room during the run of a play. We would talk about the play or the process or the audience. We would talk about our dogs. We would kvetch or gossip. We would look at catalogues and magazines. We would enjoy each other's company."


One of the most memorable plays with the two actresses was The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Martin McDonagh's Irish black comedy about a mentally ill daughter trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with her mother.



"Rose played my horrible mother. I played her horrible daughter. We loved it, "Gordon reminisces. And given the live performance of theater, anything can happen—and usually does," Gordon says.
"There was a night when a prop that I needed hadn't been set...it was a package of 'shortbread fingers,' a cookie, that I taunted her with and treated in a suggestive manner. When I discovered that they [the cookies] were missing, I had to improvise by using my own finger. Her eyes got wide...I could see the laugh just underneath the surface, and then she completely went down that somewhat different path with me. After that, Rose always called me her 'Beauty Queen.'"

Former Rep Artistic Director Joe Hanreddy remembers the first call he got after accepting the new position. It was from Rose. "
I picked up the phone to "Hi, it's Rose.  Congratulations on your new job.  Do I still have one?" recalls Hanreddy commenting on her "succinctness."  He assured that, yes, she did indeed still have a job. And that both Pickerings were key to his future work at The Rep, starting with another Irish play, Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa.  "Rose and Jim were both brilliant and I had the privilege of making plays with the theatrical firm of Pickering and Pickering for seventeen years," Hanreddy says.

For Jim Pickering acting with his wife over the years created a synergy that extended well beyond the well-known couple, on and off stage.


"Recently a number of our colleagues, both here and abroad, have told me that for many seasons Rose and I were the heart and soul of a wonderful acting ensemble. That is praise for which I am particularly grateful. But it's not quite accurate," says Pickering, adding, "She was the soul."