Rosalee Was Here
nytheatre.com review by Shannon Thomason
August 14, 2008
Rosalee Was Here is based on author Maura Campbell's personal experiences as a teacher's aide assigned not necessarily to help, but to watch a troubled young girl. It is neatly brought to the stage with just three characters: student, aide and principal.
The play opens with the principal introducing Rosalee to her new aide, Ms. Kimball, who is expected to stay with Rosalee at all times. Once they're alone, the power struggle begins. Middle school is an age of testing boundaries and Rosalee immediately begins the game of finding out just how far she can push her new toy. The aide struggles to keep up (literally) as Rosalee runs throughout the school. There are many touching moments, as these two very different people study and adjust to each other.
We don't learn why Rosalee must be watched until much later in the show. For a good portion of time, we see a hyper, precocious, sensitive child who is no more so than any other child this age. When Ms. Kimball offhandedly mentions that Rosalee talked about her sister, the principal shifts to red alert and reveals that Rosalee has been accused of sexual crimes against the sister. However, from there on, your perception of Rosalee actually changes little, because she doesn't act any differently than she did before this revelation (nor would she) and Ms. Kimball doesn't treat her any differently either. You wonder how much truth there could be in these accusations. There is, however, a subtly creepy moment when Rosalee decides to call her sister by Ms. Kimball's daughter's name.
Throughout the play, tidbits of Ms. Kimball's life away from Rosalee are woven in and while they show us that this is a woman in over her head, we discovered that during her first encounter with Rosalee. There is little payoff to these asides and they sometimes take away from the main story, rather than add to it.
Set in a public school, the play is smartly directed by Toby Ring Thelin to give a sense of expansive hallways and claustrophobic classrooms. The actors' paths between different playing areas are so specific and well-articulated that light shifts, which usually help define the space, can sometimes be a distraction. The character of Rosalee is as well-played by Rosie Mattia as she is written, bringing the split-second attention span and emotional swings of a pre-/early teen to stage, without being overly childish or becoming annoying. Monica Callan's aloof principal is your traditional public school administrator, who speaks to children and adults alike in a stilted, superior tone packaged in a thin tissue of understanding. We immediately feel for and sympathize with Leigh Ann Cobb as the aide, trying to the best of her abilities to help this child, who is always just out of her reach.
Rosalee Was Here brings a lot of hope and heart to the age-old nature vs. nurture question: are you bad because you're bad, or are you bad because you're expected to be?