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TEA FOR THREE (O’Connell & Company) lets us take a breath during this election season while we soak up some history and perhaps adjust our attitudes

Regardless of how you may feel that your own life is on a roller coaster these days, it’s always good to get some perspective.  And that might come from hearing from three women whose lives were more of a tilt-a-whirl, to keep the amusement park analogy going.  They each came from relatively modest, quiet backgrounds; married ambitious men, and were ultimately thrust into the position of what we now call FLOTUS, or “First Lady of the United States.”

Perhaps “thrust” is the wrong word, since over the years before they each had numerous experiences as the wife of a powerful politician, hosting parties, smiling graciously, answering inane questions from the media, trying to create some semblance of a “normal” home life, so they must have been somewhat prepared.

Over the years there have been First Ladies who were adored, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama, and some not so much, such as Nancy Reagan with her failed “just say no” campaign as well as ignoring the AIDS epidemic.  After thinking about this play, it seems to me that our attitudes about First Ladies are tied inextricably to our attitudes about their husbands.  And certainly in the year 2020, it’s not difficult to see how wrong that old fashioned thinking is.  And that’s one of the great lessons of TEA FOR THREE, by Eric H. Weinberger and Elaine Bromka, now available for streaming from O’Connell & Company.

Their latest offering opened last week and runs only through this Saturday, November 7.  The idea, according to founder Mary Kate O’Connell was to have a short run before the November 2020 election “day” and then a short run after election “day.”  As co-author Elaine Bromka, said “This highly polarizing political climate is perfect for the show since it manages to reach across the aisles, something we all need right now, especially on election night. We can make hay with that.”  Who knew at the time that in 2020, election “day” would be more of an election “season.”  Like hurricane season, it has turned into something to be endured.

So, whatever your political persuasion, whatever side of the aisle you’re on, I’m sure that you wish you could “rise above” the day to day political carnage and perhaps understand things with a little perspective.  This play may just offer that.  It did for me. Your mileage may vary.

Basically TEA FOR THREE, in three monologues, asks, according to the publicity “What is it like for a woman when her husband becomes POTUS, the President of the United States and she is suddenly thrust into the spotlight?”  TEA FOR THREE: LADY BIRD, PAT & BETTY explores the hopes, fears, and loves of Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford – three drastically different women, with one thing in common: The White House.  And, one other thing in common, although it’s not overtly pointed out, and that is that all three left the White House “before” getting a second term opportunity to wrap things up.

What the play does well is humanize these three by going beyond the headlines or our vague memories of what they were all about.

What the play does well is humanize these three by going beyond the headlines or our vague memories of what they were all about.

The play is offered in three scenes, each directed by Joey Bucheker, each videotaped in Buffalo at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site on Delaware Avenue, which stands in for the family quarters of The White House just prior to the end of each FLOTUS living there.  Each of the women is about to welcome the next First Lady and each scene ends with a phone call announcing that “she’s here.”  So for the twenty to thirty minutes prior, each confides alone to the audience.

Mary Kate O’Connell is Lady Bird Johnson and puts on a convincing wig and a consistent southern accent, with the insight that as she stumped for Lyndon Baines Johnson, the deeper she traveled in the south, the thicker her accent became!  Lyndon Johnson was a master politician when he was a senator, using a combination of flattery and influence that apparently spilled over into his home life, so being married to the man could have been exhausting, but Lady Bird was up to the task.  While full of historical content, this segment felt a little long.

Mary Moebius is Pat Nixon and mirrors some of her husband’s paranoia and distrust and anger.  Again, the wig and costuming was spot on.

Pamela Rose Mangus is Betty Ford who apparently was much more animated and fun that I was aware of.  And brave.  She let the world in on her health problems and especially after her role as First Lady continued her advocacy for health issues.  Mangus is quite a physical and energetic actor and so her segment seemed to move along more apace than the others.  I fault the videographer for the fact that her body mic kept getting hit creating extraneous noise.  I understand if something is “live” that the show must go on, but this was pre-taped.

The play was directed by Joey Bucheker, with Stage Manager Michael Morog, Costume Design by Bret Runyon, Videography by Devin Chavanne, and outstanding Hair and Wigs by Jenny Marie McCabe.

For the past eight months (eight? yes, eight) I and many others have been bemoaning on one platform or another the loss of live theater as many voices in the theater community express that there is no substitute for what theater really is – a live actor in front of a live audience.  And at first I thought that plays on Zoom were pretty hard to take, but it would get better.  Well, the technology and so-called “production values” have improved, a lot, but it wasn’t until TEA FOR THREE that it really hit me.  THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH BETTER live and in person.  Being forced to only see what the camera sees, from the camera’s point of view, was very frustrating.  And it denied these three great Buffalo actors that essential audience feedback.

But, all in all, it’s a good show, certainly an easy way to soak up some history, and pretty well videotaped in a gorgeous setting, the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, where, by the way, you can take a virtual tour.

To see the play, purchase your virtual tickets here.

(Note that the dates on the website are off by a day. The three remaining shows are actually this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, November 5, 6, and 7; not November 6,7, and 8 as indicated in publicity and on the website). Each show nominally starts at 7:30 p.m. with your $25 ticket. A link will be emailed 45 minutes prior to the show and you’ll have several hours to view and pause for breaks (just as the Irish Classical Theatre did with SEA MARKS) but your ticket is only good for one evening, not, say, 30 days of streaming, as it is with some other organizations, for example, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.  The whole show is a little over 90 minutes. With my link, it turned out that I could start streaming before 7:30.

Note: Other than the words “tea” and “three” being in the title, this play has nothing to do with the book “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson.

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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