by: Sandi Durell
When you’re the First Lady you host a lot of teas. Just as political deals are accomplished for Presidents on the golf course, so points are made for First Ladies at tea. But how Lady Bird, Pat and Betty handled the delicacies, were so very diverse.
Through the writing collaboration between Elaine Bromka and Eric H. Weinberger, the subtleties of each of these women in the White House is brought to life.
Insight into the lives of these First Ladies is the essence of why some of our Presidents may, or may not, have succeeded. When Lady Bird tries to tell a joke, well, it’s just not her forte. But hosting teas for everyone from Sandberg to Steinbeck probably succeeded perfectly well, especially since Lyndon was so particular about how she dressed. She was attracted to him like a moth to a flame and subjugated her own identity because, as she says, “my identity was Lyndon.” Surprisingly, she eventually developed a toughness and even toured giving speeches. Bromka gives a first class portrayal on how Lyndon and Lady Bird were affected because of the Vietnam War.
Pat Nixon was personally hands on when it came to things like answering her mail, which she did by hand. But no speeches for her! She had a loving daddy, who drank. She and Dick met while auditioning for a local theater group. Pat was a hard worker, earning her own money at jobs that took her from being a janitor to a teacher. She liked to decorate and made some changes in the White House. She hated the ugly politics and was impassioned about the claims of fraud during Watergate. But “you hold in your emotions.” She would have preferred Dick to fight.
Unlike these two First Ladies, Betty Ford was a hot number! She loved to dance and had a fun edge and although she felt awful for the Nixons, she was more than happy when Jerry was sworn in as President. After all, he worked his tail off and she was somewhat resentful about that. But there was always a cocktail at hand. Her Dad was an alcoholic. Betty wanted to be a professional dancer, coming to New York to study with Martha Graham, winding up in her 2d company. And, Betty did have an eye for the boys! When she returned home, she modeled a bit, got married and after nursing her first husband back to health, divorced him. Jerry was soon in her life and almost missed their wedding because he was so busy campaigning for Congress.
Betty did love to party and was quite outspoken at the time for equal rights – “you can’t shut this one up.” She was earthy all right. “I’m a First Lady, not the Virgin Mary.” And people loved her feisty honesty as Jerry’s popularity climbed.
All in all, Elaine Bromka, not only changes dresses and wigs, but segues easily into the various personalities and characters that specifically marked each of these women, all within 75 minutes!
The piece is directed by Byam Stevens.
Tea for Three continues thru June 29th. 212 86804444 www.teaforthree.com
Produced by Amas at 30th Street Theatre.