Gilroy had seen in Albertson something of his own Irish father, but the playwright says, "Physically, Martin has more of the qualities of my father than Jack."
Sheen went to work at the age of 9 as a caddie at the local country club, where he was exposed to other kinds of men, affluent, imperious men whom he did not like. "I knew how I didn't want to be when I grew up -- racist, self-absorbed. That was not a man to me. A man was my father, who probably never made more than $140 a week. I learned a lot about acting from him too; he was a great storyteller."
On his own role as a father, Sheen said, "Now I'm almost 70, so I've had a whole lifetime of understanding where I failed, although you'd have to ask my kids where I failed. I made mistakes, monumental mistakes, but whatever they were, they were made out of my understanding or misunderstanding of love at the time.
"I've often said to my wife, 'If I had it to do over again, there are certain things that I would not do,' and she says, 'That's true because now you know, but then you would have done other things, and they could have been equally damaging.' When you're starting out, you're 20, you're not 70. It's on-the-job training."
Admittedly anguished over the personal troubles of his son Charlie, the star of CBS' "Two and a Half Men," who was charged Monday with a felony in connection with alleged domestic violence involving an incident with his wife last month in Aspen, Sheen did not want to talk about Charlie publicly.
"It's very, very painful," he said.
"I don't know what Frank's dad was like," he said, returning to the subject of his character, "but I can relate to this guy having to struggle with poverty growing up."
The father in "The Subject Was Roses" is an alcoholic and philanderer. An unsuccessful businessman, he and his disconnected wife have allowed their 25-year marriage to founder, damaged by desultory rancor and possessiveness of their only son (played in this production by Brian Geraghty of "The Hurt Locker").
"What keeps them together is the boy," Gilroy says, "but they probably wouldn't have stayed together today."
"It's a period piece," Sheen said, "and that's very important, but the relationships are not that far removed. Alcohol is still a big problem, ego is still a big problem, people are still grappling with the same issues."
When he reaches St. Augustine after the rehearsal, Sheen passes through the big doors at the stroke of 5 and makes his way down the far aisle of the sanctuary to an empty pew in the half-full church. The largely Latino congregation takes little note of his entrance. He makes the sign of the cross and genuflects toward the altar before taking a seat, then kneels in prayer.
Over the next hour, he sings "hallelujahs," raises his arms in supplication according to the liturgy, hears a lesson from the Book of Luke, turns to his companion, extends his hand and says, "Peace be with you," then repeats the ritual with two other worshipers. Later, he joins the procession down the center aisle to receive Holy Communion.
On the way out of the church, he puts some money in a slot designated for votive candles, lights a long wooden match and then a fresh candle in the bank of flickering red votives.
"Do you see a candle on that side," Sheen says, offering his companion the flaming match. "I paid for two. Light a candle for someone."