Photo by Lucy Wimmer
By Anna Mann
On Thursday, January 19, Emmy Award-winning actress Elaine Bromka performed her original piece, Tea for Three in Guerry Auditorium. The one-woman show gave an 80 minute glimpse into the lives of three first ladies: Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Betty Ford. In an interview afterward, Bromka stated, “I’ve taken [the play] to 300 places in the last 13 years,” and said that it took her “nine months to write.”
Intricate wooden picture frames hung in front of the red velvet curtains, sturdy wooden furniture dotted the stage, and props to match the individual styles of the ladies occupied their surfaces. She meticulously researched each First Lady’s mannerisms and personality through her books or diaries. Lady Bird spoke in an east Texas drawl, her syllables enunciated and her vowels elongated. She had a tendency to act almost ditsy, but just as one would imagine, altogether played the perfect lady.
Pat Nixon had a reserved, anxious air, but, as opposed to Lady Bird’s genteel attitude, seemed more honest with her struggles as First Lady. She spoke poignantly about how politics destroyed her personal freedom. Due to the Watergate scandal, the First Lady remained nervous and even unable to go outside. Her cheerful blue dress seemed at odds with her emotions when she stated vehemently, “I’ve given up everything I ever loved for politics!”
Lastly, Betty Ford made the audience howl over her classic sense of humor. Her sharp Michigan accent caused every punch line sound all the more clever, and the fact that she wore a bathrobe for almost the entire segment made the viewer feel like the character’s old friend. The play ended with the First Lady sauntering off stage, white jacket thrown over her shoulder, the picture of confidence and ease.
In the question session after the show, Bromka answered questions from those who stayed to listen. Community members, Sewanee faculty, and numerous theater students stayed behind in order to receive an inside look on the show. She talked about everything from acting advice to the research done for the play. Bromka told all the young actors out there to “watch people. The drama is every day, all around you.”
Her ease upon the stage bled into the rest of her demeanor, and although an award winning actress, she made sure to sing the praises of the Sewanee tech crew before leaving, thanking them for an amazing job and an outstanding eye for detail. Everyone seemed enraptured by her easy sense of humor and grace in handling herself and others.
When asked about the motivation for her work, Bromka said, “I wanted [the audience] to walk in [the First Ladies’] shoes. How it feels to be on display all the time, everything they do being judged. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat, these ladies are typically friends.”
After answering all the raised hands, Bromka added, “I think you all live in Eden. It’s so calm. How lovely to have a pretty place that’s calm but has such energy.”
Kasey Marshall (C’19) stated that, “[Bromka] showed off her versatility as an actress. I’m always weary of one person shows; however, she made it a very compelling performance.” Marshall went on to elaborate that the actress actually attended her The Actor’s Way of Work class in order to work with them.
Similarly, Ansley Murphey (C’19) explained how the play impacted her when she said, “The First Ladies have stuff written about them, but there’s nothing personal. They were women being as strong as they could. It was early feminism and they were the people beginning that!”