A Show Broadway was waiting for - and one it wasn't

'Rose', Starring Glenda Jackson, Jessica Tandy. Comedy by Andrew Davies. Directed by Alan Dossor "Rose" is one of those workaday vehicles that British stars like Glenda Jackson can steer to successful West End runs. For some reason it has been chosen as the occasion for Miss Jackson's return to Broadway after a 15-year absence. While her crisp expressiveness and debonair comic style make her as welcome as spring flowers, the new comedy at the Cort Theater seems scarcely worthy of transatlantic export.

The central character in playwright Andrew Davies's impressionistic tale is an anti-establishment heroine who faces her identity problem with a flip but unfocused feminism. ("I just want to be myself. . . . What is so wrong with that?") Even with Miss Jackson's efficiently clean-cut artifice and an enriched comic performance by Jessica Tandy as Rose's tiresome yet touching old widowed mum, the comedy seems thin and sketchy. Except for a sprinkling of fashionable obscenities, the arrangement of short, episodic scenes could qualify as a stage variant of two standard TV forms: soap opera and sitcom.

For all of its overlay of humorous observation and occasional compelling scenes (the most-daughter dialogues are the best), "Rose" proves to be an essentially dreary piece about the midlife crisis of an immature Midlands matron. Rose's effectiveness as an innovative infant-school teacher with tentative ambitions for advancement seems frustrated as much by her own attitude as by the rigidly authoritarian headmistress whom she constantly antagonizes. When a classroom is vandalized, Rose automatically blames and berates the system.

As the play progresses, the unfulfilled nonconformist grows more tiresome and less appealing. In the course of her self-exploration, the restive and loquacious Rose visits two rusticating musician friends from her salad days. She also betrays her marriage by encouraging the overtures of a visiting school official. Finally, she comes to the parting of the ways with her sometimes unfaithful husband, a middle manager whose disintegrating career appears to strike Rose more as a minor irritant than a major concern. Of his self-preoccupied mate, husband Geoffrey complains: "You care about nothing. You notice nothing."

The surrounding cast in a performance staged by Alad Dossar is workmanlike and supportive, although the mixture of British Midlands accents sometimes sounds closer to Broadway than to Birmingham. Principal among the secondary players are John Cunningham as Rose's miserable husband, Beverly May as the cast-iron headmistress, and Margaret Hilton as a comically timorous fellow teacher.

Andy Phillips has lighted the production cleverly, but John Gunter's musty, gray-walled, all-purpose setting is unnecessarily depressing. Linda Fisher's costume designs include a smashing daytime outfit for Miss Jackson that adds an unmistakable touch of clas s to the classroom.

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