In 1953 being labeled “different” carried almost the same stigma as being diagnosed a leper. Robert Anderson wrote a poetic drama that became one of the first dramatic treatments examining gay prejudice and bullying. He set his play (later, a film starring Deborah Kerr) in the microcosm of a private New England boys’ prep school. And this distinguished and welcome new production is still (unfortunately) very relevant over 50 years later.
Shy teenager Tom Lee loves music, enjoys reading and is fond of theatre. He’s more comfortable sharing his feelings with Laura Reynolds, his House Master’s wife, than with her husband Bill, his father Herb or any of his peers. Instead of obsessing about sports and girls that put out, like his school mates, Tom disappoints his father and Bill Reynolds by accepting a female role in the school play. Then an innocent weekend swim with a male teacher sets off a barrage of suspicions and accusations that drive Tom to quash rumors about his sexuality by going to the town slut. When he fails to see this through, and Al, his roommate and only school friend, transfers to another house. Tom’s humiliation prompts him to attempt suicide. In a final act of compassion and love, Laura offers Tom more than simply tea and sympathy, the only prescribed solace she’s required to administer to her young wards.
This stunning, eloquent production has the appropriate look and feel of the 1950s. As directed by David New, every movement, every word of this play becomes significant and his talented cast rise to the occasion. Andrew Cutler creates a perfectly nuanced, beautifully sensitive Tom Lee in his Chicago professional debut. Kate Tummelson brings grace and tenderness to her quietly dignified Laura balanced by Peter DeFaria’s macho Bill, who may have a secret of his own.