Tea and Sympathy: How far have we grown?

Originally published in FaceBook Notes

January 28, 2014 at 12:18pm

I must admit, I typically only spend time reading plays that I think I can submit for performance locally. I read the character list and stop when I find a black character (I believe I have cast the only black person locally, Rent 2015 makes 2). I stop when I see a need for for numerous actors (casting and scheduling six actors is often more than enough of nightmare). I read the set description, and stop when it calls for multiple realistic settings. I especially stop when the tally of words on the “no-no list” exceeds what I perceive as the censors’ line in the sand. I’m not proud, just practical.

Being home bound by the cold, I pulled out my 50 Best Plays of the American Theatre (selected by Clive Barnes, 1969, Crown Publishers, NY). Inside I found a play with a single interior set design, a cast of 11 (on my high side), with no characters of color, and dialogue which may not even contain the word “damn.” Yet I’m still left wondering if this poignant drama might get more than a reading at a coffee shop around here.

Tea and Sympathy by Robert Anderson was first produced on Broadway in 1953. The play deals with malicious suspicion, culturally sanctioned harassment, and the persistent, pervasive and dubious definition of masculinity that still drives people to commit the first two crimes on this list. Its progression of events, and implied social impact on the life’s of its characters may seem more firmly rooted in the time period of the play in an era that makes a great show of tolerance. The crimes of the heart and mind, however, still linger. As a school social worker I am routinely employed in healing the damage.

Obstacles other than subject matter: Finding a young man locally who looks the part of the 17 1/2 year old protagonist and is also brave enough to take on the role may prove difficult. NOTE: It’s not certain if ANYONE in the play identifies as homosexual! It also calls for 4-5 more prep school boy-actors which might be harder to find around here than at a girls’ boarding school. There is also one implied romantic encounter between a 23 year old woman and the protagonist. Of course we’ve seen adults hop in an out of myriad romantic encounters in an endless steam of bedroom farces. We’ve laughed it up when the stereotypical upstairs neighbor “poof” waltzes into the fray. Oh how we roared when two male actors wrestled into a position of implied sodomy! This play however might reveal how little we’ve really grown in 60 years.



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