Timothy M. Kolman has led a fascinating life. The child of German Jewish refugees, he grew up in England, fought in combat with the Israeli Defense Forces, and earned a law degree in Scotland before moving to the United States in 1980 and studying law at the University of Pennsylvania. Now he's a playwright, producing his script The Roses in June with professional artistic collaborators.
His biography is relevant not only because The Roses in June is semi-autobiographical, but also because it reveals the sometimes vast distance between a storied life and the good play one assumes can be derived from it.
The problem with The Roses in June, set in 1967 London during the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, is not that every character has a story, but that those stories don't mesh. They're separate strands, never tying together into something larger, so every story feels shortchanged and the play lacks a satisfying climax. Exacerbating this is a tendency to keep characters physically separate; school headmaster Taplow (Bob Heath) and teacher Colin (Kyle Fennie) orate long monologues to mostly unseen students. Other scenes are one-sided phone calls and letter readings. When characters finally interact, it's mainly to yell. No one really changes or grows. Distractingly, some accents veer awkwardly across Europe, while others are solidly American.
The most obviously dramatic story concerns private-school student Paul Rose (Tyler Brennan), a target of bigoted bullies, including longtime friend Abdul (Jay Romero), a radicalized Muslim whose father (Eric Cover) has assimilated to British life, even rocking out to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But the boys only speak together in one scene; their issues are barely articulated, let alone resolved.
Colin, charged with monitoring these troubles, is somehow last to know when (offstage) violence occurs. Taplow shares exposition with a shovel, then makes an accusation that could launch the play in a different direction — if it wasn't just dropped.
Paul's parents, George (Ian Agnew) and Ingrid (Kirsten Quinn), are haunted by their kindertransport experiences, but each reacts to Paul's predicament differently. George — "Helmut" at home — has become a successful English tailor, while Ingrid lives in the past, translating old letters from relatives who never escaped Germany.
Olivia Sebesky's set design — a tall wall of cement panels, and stairs going nowhere that suggest an Escher drawing viewed from above — lacks clear purpose. It's impressively solid and beautifully lit by Ryan O'Gara, and makes a fine backdrop for projections of news headlines and handwritten letters. Sebesky divides the stage into separate playing areas, cramping each location: Paul's bedroom is a tiny cot on a small platform, Taplow's office is a tiny desk and short bench on a small platform, and the Roses' living room becomes awkwardly crowded with three characters.
The world, Taplow tells his students, "is rather an untidy place." One might say the same about The Roses in June, an ambitious but untidy play.