Directed by David New
Produced by The Artistic Home
At Stage 773, Chicago
Powerful tale of generalized bigotry still permanent today.
Robert Anderson’s 1953 drama, Tea and Sympathy, later a film, deals with the price one pays for being different; for not conforming for the sake of acceptance. Set in a boarding house on the campus of a prep school, we meet Tom Lee (Andrew Cutler), a shy, sweet and caring 17 year old high school junior who’d rather sing folk tunes than throw a football. He has a non-crew cut; listens to classical music; loves to play women in school plays; and, he wins at tennis by cutting and slashing rather than over-powering his opponent.
Tom is sexually naive and comes across to his mates as effeminate. He is a lonely boy estranged from his father, Herb Lee (Kevin Gladish). He eagerly loves his ‘tea & sympathy’ sessions with Laura Reynolds (Kate Tummelson), the wife of the house master. The culture of male bravado that dominates the New England prep school is manifest in Al (Nick Horst), Tom’s roommate. Al tries to protect Tom from hazing by the boys who call Tom “Grace” after he played a women in a school play.
Bill Reynolds (Peter DeFaria) is the macho house master who finds Tom too much of a sissy for his own good. He resents his wife’s interest in Tom. Laura sees her first husband in Tom.
When scandal erupts that finds a teacher, David Harris (Steve Wojtas) swimming nude with Tom (also nude) at a secluded beach, Harris is fired and Tom’s sexuality is further moved into the homosexual category by staff and students despite no direct evidence. Tom doesn’t understand all the fuss since he never did anything sexual with Harris or any other man.
Tom’s father and Reynolds try to push Tom into conforming to the cult of masculinity prevalent at the all-male school. Tom must drop out of the play since he is playing a woman. Al tries to get Tom to walk and act more macho-whatever that means.
Laura tries to defend Tom since she understand his tenderness and his honest type of maleness sans all the macho bravado. But as things heat up and Tom is pushed to taking drastic action to prove his macho straightness, Laura realizes things about herself and Bill that make life changing actions necessary.
Tea and Sympathy is a well-acted, tightly produced and directed drama that deals with questions about the price two people pay as they risk their “ideal” lives in standing up to the norns of the status quo. The definition of what is a male, a man and what role a woman plays in a marriage (docile and devoted versus independent and an equal partner), are vividly presented. When Tom and Laura realize the harsh truths of their lives, they react with courage and determination. This fine drama honestly presents the moral and psychological dilemmas that youths and young married women still face in today’s world. Conforming to society’s definitions of masculinity are still thrust upon teen boys as they struggle to be themselves. This play is more that a gay or not story; it’s about the personal price one pays to fit in to the group.
Andrew Cutler, in his professional acting debut, played Tom so honestly that we never know his true identity until the end. Kate Tummelson plays Laura with a subtle strength while Peter DeFaria lets his pent-up emotions explode during the crisis. Tea and Sympathy is an effective and engrossing cautionary tale that still needs to be dealt with in the 21st Century.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 18, 2012
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, www.stage773.org, tickets $28 -$32, Thursdays & Sundays Senior/Student tickets $20. Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 2o minutes with 2 intermissions, through April 22, 2012