#57. Jock, fairy, slut, bully... labels have transcended time. But how has our reaction to them stood the test of decades? Do we continue to be bystanders against or advocates for individuality?
The Artistic Home presents TEA AND SYMPATHY. It’s the 1950’s. A quick dip at the local swimming hole leads to destruction at an all boys’ school. Why? Well, the two guys were naked. It was a student and a teacher. AND homophobia is the underlying focus of the curriculum. The teacher loses his job. Tom doesn’t get off so easy. The students and faculty make Tom’s life miserable. His only respite in the tempest is the empathetic housemaster’s wife. TEA AND SYMPATHY serves up thought-provoking subject matter and outstanding performances.
Playwright Robert Anderson premiered this play in 1953. The premise must have been shocking for the time period. Sixty years later, the context still is disturbing. The gay-witch-hunt is unsettling. The advocate argument for Tom is that he’s *not necessarily* gay. No one is fighting for the right for Tom to be gay if that is his sexual orientation. I wish sixty years later, this show was laughable because of that lunacy. Unfortunately, many people continue to believe the worst thing their son could be is gay. And so this show’s timelessness makes me uncomfortably sad.
The play itself is performed beautifully. Under the direction of David New, dorm life is rambunctious on the fray and heart-wrenching in the center. Aiding the story, Scenic Designer Mike Mroch creates a colonial style home framing multiple living areas. The interior rooms and exterior halls build the intrigue and angst. Among all the boys-will-be-boys, men-will-be-men camaraderie is Kate Tummelson (Laura). Tummelson is a steel magnolia. Tummelson poignantly struggles with her designated role of ‘understanding bystander.’ She delivers the last line of the show with a haunting whisper. Powerful! Andrew Culter (Tom) endears going from blissful ignorance to the burden of understanding. Cutler’s victim resignation begs for a maternal intervention. My mama bear instinct is heightened and I just want to hug him. The entire talented ensemble is testosterone charged bullies... the believability factor is scary off the charts. Interjecting some female moxie into the boys club, Katherine Swan (Lilly) is hysterical.
TEA AND SYMPATHY is an evolution reality check. Even after sixty years, bullying and homophobia is still prevalent. I recommend seeing this show to nudge yourself out of being an ‘understanding bystander’ on gay rights. Without empathy, nothing ever changes.
A renaissance man with a guy-guy façade and compassionate heart, Joshua J. Volkers describes it with ‘assumption is dangerous.’
NOTE: Arrive early and secure lower level seats. Stage 773’s Black Box Theatre doesn’t have the incline to ensure unobstructed views. Some of the action in the stage’s forefront isn’t visible from the back rows.
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes includes two intermissions.
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont
Written by Robert Anderson
Directed by David New
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru April 22nd
Buy Tickets at www.stage773.org