Monday, November 9, 2009

Speaking Of First Ladies...

Friday night I went to the Two River Theater and saw Tea for Three, a new one woman show co-written by and starring Emmy award-winning actress Elaine Bromka. The play captured three First Ladies -- Ladybird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford -- at the end of their terms in the White House. Over tea with the audience, they tell how they met and fell in love with their husbands. They reveal their varied understandings of the duties of a political wife. And they can't help but tell their sides of the biggest moments of their political and personal worlds. For Ladybird and LBJ, his unexpected presidency after the assassination of JFK, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the escalation of the Vietman War, and his decision not to seek another term. For Pat and Richard Nixon, Watergate, Vietman, and his ultimate resignation. For Betty and Gerald Ford, his pardoning of Nixon, Roe v. Wade, and his loss to Jimmy Carter. 

You might think that a play about tea with the First Ladies would be dull, but Bromka squeezes a lot of history and humanity into her performance. Humanity is the key. I may be a history buff, but I was humbled by just how little I knew about these women. In fact, as someone in my late twenties, I couldn't summon up a picture of them or hear their accents in my head. It may not just be my age. First-Lady-dom institutionalizes these women and denies the humanity behind the role. 

As Bromka told more of their families, upbringings, and personal history, it lifted the institutional veil. The First Ladies morphed from historical figures to relatable women. Hearing their improbable paths to the White House, I realize what a bizarre course it is from love affair to First Lady, especially in an earlier time when wives didn't necessarily have an equal say in their husband's career choices. Michelle Obama giving Barack the third degree about why he wanted to run, how he thought he could win, and what he would accomplish once in office is a testament not only to Mrs. Obama but to these millennial times. 

For more on the current first marriage, read this profile of the Obamas in the New York Times Magazine. For more on the lives and times of Ladybird, Pat, and Betty, see Tea for Three. Two thumbs up!

I had the opportunity to speak with Elaine Bromka after the show. She was fantastic -- passionate about her research, writing, and performance. A real triple threat in my book!


Anonymous said...

You need to get to DC soon. I am not sure what Joe is doing next but he is applying to law schools. One of his major responsibilities at Senator Lautenberg's office is to arrange constituent tours. For some of them you need a lot of lead time (White House). I am going this Th-Sun. On Friday, he has me scheduled for the following:
White House, Library of Congress, Bureau of Printing and Engraving, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, Capital Tour and Brumidi Corridor. Joe does the Capital Tour himself. I will be exhausted, but how great is this?


Anonymous said...


You could write Elaine Bromka's advance publicity! That was a rave.
Having lived through their time I know how well she brought the First Ladies back to life.

I happen to like the one man/women show genre. Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain,Frank Gorshin as George Burns, and Susan Classen as Edith Head. Now this. It was a great evening, made better by seeing it with you and your Mom.

Aunt D