Richardson — For an audience almost devoid of Y chromosomes, Tea For Three: Lady Bird, Pat & Betty, at first, seems disproportionately preoccupied by them. It’s understandable, however, when you realize that the three characters of the one-woman show are all First Ladies, an ironic title as it instantly means you come in second to the most powerful man in the world.
Elaine Bromka performs the show, which is playing at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts in Richardson, that she wrote with Eric H. Weinberger with a precision and assured grace that only comes from years of refinement. With the aid of director Byam Stevens, Bromka has created three characterizations that are as rich as they are distinct. Accents, gestures, and even comic timing change with the changes of administration.
But to judge the show on these merits would be like judging the presidents by the decorations of the White House, though those trappings are also dealt with during the 75-minute show. After all, that falls under the First Lady’s purview, right? That’s the sort of diminution of these remarkable women to which the audience is invited to bear witness.
Starting with Lady Bird Johnson, the show seems like a nostalgia trip. Heads nodded as she cordially chats about Lyndon and his burdens. It becomes quickly clear that the drama is in what Lady Bird doesn’t say. Her noble carriage and unwavering loyalty to the man she loves earns our reverent respect especially when she gets to describing that day in Dallas.
After a three-minute pause, Pat Nixon comes out. The new accent and wig aren’t the only update. Pat relates the changes she’s made to the White House and turbulent times her husband Richard has been through. Now, the message of the show becomes clearer. How do you support the one you love without losing yourself? What voice is owed to the nearest person to the person elected to the highest office?
In the final movement, Betty Ford totters around. Just as the other characters have, she is to host the incoming first lady for tea, but somehow her scenario is entirely different. Part of the virtue of having one woman play all three characters is to compare how the times have changed around them. It’s not just the personalities that have rotated but the world, as well. Though Pat’s is so much more open, it’s no less complicated. Her love for her husband is just as steadfast but the job is murkier.
As a historical document the show may take some liberties, but few in audience would quibble. The mostly female audience seemed to respect seeing a story from the kindest point of view.
Loyalty sometimes demands a greater form of honesty.