by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Theatre Jacksonville opened Robert Anderson’s “Tea and Sympathy” at its theatre at 2032 San Marco Boulevard in Jacksonville. This fourth production of TJ’s ninety-third season will run through May 4. For reservations call 904-396-4425.
Robert Anderson’s ground breaking 1953 play redo, under the astute direction of MICHAEL LIPP, feels vital and relevant in this excellent revival. “Tea and Sympathy” has had previous revivals in New York (2007) and Chicago (2012). It is the story of Tom Lee, a seventeen-year-old in a private boarding school who is shy, prefers music to sports, and is viewed as effeminate by his fellow classmates. He is being raised by his father Herb, who is wealthy but distant and unsupportive. Tom is lonely; he has few friends. After he and one of the school’s instructors are seen skinny dipping together at a local swimming hole, the instructor is fired and gossip and rumors about Tom intensify.
Laura , who has recently married Bill Reynolds, the housemaster, was previously an actress and now has a role supporting her husband and his students, with “tea and sympathy” sessions in the parlor. Tom enjoys acting, and is currently preparing for a school play. He will be playing a woman’s role in a comedy and Laura is helping by sewing his costume. Laura and Bill are having domestic problems and this in turn makes Laura sensitive to the social problems Tom is experiencing; she and Tom have become friends.
Male rough-and-tumble culture is prominent at this New England prep school, and Tom is soon being hazed by the other boys on campus.The housemaster Bill doesn’t like him and really doesn’t want him to remain at the school, and his father is pressuring him to act more manly.
We will leave the resolution for you to discover when you see the play. The play did well on Broadway, with over 700 performances. A 1956 film was made with Deborah Kerr, John Kerr, and Leif Erickson, who were members from the original Broadway cast. The film not well received by critics as the script was changed to conform to the Hollywood Production Code of 1930 which prohibited the inclusion of anything that could be possibly be construed as a reference to homosexual issues.
KYLE SIEG is superb and skillfully portrays a very believable Tom with great sensitivity.
KAREN OVERSTREET as Laura, Tom’s protector, displays excellent emotion, from the confrontation with her husband, to the gentle handling of Tom’s confusion. St. Augustine actress CATHY O’BRIEN, fresh from an outstanding performance at Limelight’s “The Rainmaker”, is very good as Lilly, also a housemaster’s wife, and Laura’s best friend. JOSEPH STEARMAN, who was the defense attorney in Theatre Jacksonville’s last show “The Triangle Factory”, is totally believable as Laura’s macho man husband Bill, who wears his prejudices on his sleeves.
DAVID LEVINE as Herb Lee, Tom’s father is very impressive in his first role on the Jacksonville stages. Mr. Levine is also one of the newest member of Jacksonville’s Vintage Players acting troupe. MATTHEW TOMPKINS as David Harris, Tom’s teacher friend, is only on stage a short time, but convincingly conveys his concerns about his predicament
JOSH KATZMAN is Ralph, the most boisterous of Tom’s fellow students. Mr. Katzman is new to Jacksonville and this play is his first on local stages. KERRY BURKE-McCLOUD, as AL, is the most sympathetic of Tom’s schoolmates and does seem truly caring as he advises Tom to change the way he walks and talks. The other two fellow students, who make frequent appearances, are JASON KING, playing Phil and JAIME MORRIS-ATKINS as Steve.
DAVID LYNN DAWSON, who joined Theatre Jacksonville’s staff this season as Technical Director, did the Set and Lighting Design and continues to impress us with the quality of his work. The set included Tom’s upstairs dorm room and a comfortably furnished parlor with wing chairs.
Costume Designer extraordinaire TRACY OLIN has captured the early 1950’s styles, especially in the dresses worn by the women.
The Stage Manager and Property Master is KAREN KRAMER, with EMILY BUSHWAY operating the lights and EMILY VAUGH operating the sound.
Don’t miss this fine production which has been so well cast and directed by Michael Lipp (who also did the Sound Design). It is a thought-provoking play, even though things have changed since the early 1950’s and non-conformity appears to be more accepted today. At least that is our opinion, what is yours?
TEA AND SYMPATHY
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM