The New England Repertory Company's fall production is Robert Anderson's "Tea and Sympathy". This ground breaking drama explores a sensitive young man's coming of age amid the taunts and suspicions of his classmates and teachers at a private boy's academy in June, 1953. Tom Robinson Lee, a 17-year old student is at odds with the other boys who like sports, talking about girls, and listening to pop music. Tom prefers classical music, reads books, can sew, goes to the theater, and generally seems to be more at ease in the company of women. The other boys torment him for his "unmanly" qualities and call him "Grace", and is treated ruthlessly by his father, Herb Lee, who believes a man should be manly. Only Al, also a student and Tom's roommate at the prep school, treats Tom with any decency. This turbulence is noticed by Laura Reynolds, the young wife of the House Master Bill Reynolds. She tries to build a connection with the young man, eventually even falling in love with him, presumably because of his similarity to her first husband John, who was killed in World War II. He tries to attempt suicide due to failing to have sexual relations with a prostitute. Tom and Laura eventually have sex after she tries to comfort him and she ends up leaving her husband. Director Mike Kiernan infuses the show with the right amount of pathos to make us understand the plight of this misunderstood boy, making the show relevant to the current day audience by the current day "gay bashing" and bullying in our schools. The message that it is acceptable to be different in this show still resonates today.
Mike knows how to elicit the best from his performers. The spectacular two story unit set is designed by Ted Talian with art work by Glenn Fournier while the gorgeous 1950's costumes are by Mary Jane McCool. Alan Conway is the stage manager who keeps this topnotch cast on their toes all night long. Petr Favazza stars as the tortured youth, running the gamut of emotions in this role. He shows the inner torment when he is ridiculed by the other boys and berated by his bullying father. Petr has grown so much as an actor from when I first saw him in "Brighton Beach Memoirs" in 2007. Jennifer Mischley is terrific as the sympathetic woman who understands what Tom is going through and helps guide him in his quest to find himself. Laura tries to keep him from going to the prostitute's house because she realizes he can't be with a woman unless he really is in love with her. Laura's line "Years from now when you talk about this, and you will, be kind" still has an impact on the audience. Her empathetic behavior towards Tom is due to the cold treatment from her current husband.
The rest of the cast does a wonderful job with their roles, too. Joe LaGreca is her husband, Bill Reynolds who dislikes the boy intensely because of a secret from Bill's past. Joe's final confrontation scene with Laura is stunning and leaves the audience breathless at its impact. Richard Stiles is Richard Lee, the boy's strict father and he delivers the goods as this overbearing character, running roughshod over his son, making him drop out of the school play and being embarrassed by his weak behavior. Playing two other students splendidly are Curtis Bellafiore as Al who is sympathetic, tries to help Tom out as much as possible and Tyler Lawson as Ralph who is a big bully. His mocking and razzing Tom is marvelous and he deserves to be booed for the character's callous and cad like behavior. Rounding out the cast is Kelly Dailey as Lilly, one of the other wives on campus who is the comic relief with her wise cracks about the boys interest in women for sex, Peter Fitzgerald as Mr. Harris who is fired for supposed immoral behavior and Joe Duda and Mikey Schanz as two other students. So for a relevant drama for contemporary audiences, be sure to catch "Tea and Sympathy''. It shows the more things change, the more they stay the same.