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Tea and Sympathy


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A: Robert Anderson Pf: 1953, New York Pb: 1953 G: Drama in 3 acts S: Boys' boarding school, New England, 1950s C: 9m, 2fTom Lee is a sensitive 18-year-old schoolboy, whose manner and whose interest in art make his tough and sporty fellow scholars suspect him of homosexuality. Even Tom's father has his doubts, and his bullying housemaster Bill Reynolds is particularly cruel towards him. Only Bill's wife Laura, unhappy in her marriage and reminded by young Tom of her first husband who was killed in the war, shows any sympathy towards Tom. However, school rules permit her to dispense only ‘tea and sympathy’. Tom tries to lose his virginity to a local whore, but the episode ends in fiasco. Now convinced that he is ‘queer’, Tom tries to kill himself, and is expelled from the school as a consequence. Laura, who accuses Bill of persecuting Tom because of his own repressed homosexuality, decides to leave him and goes to comfort Tom in his room. She assures him of his manhood, and begins gently to seduce him as the curtain falls.

A: Robert Anderson Pf: 1953, New York Pb: 1953 G: Drama in 3 acts S: Boys' boarding school, New England, 1950s C: 9m, 2f

Like William Inge, Robert Anderson wrote plays that contained some of the taboo elements of sexuality so powerfully dissected by Tennessee Williams, but Inge and Anderson rendered the topics more digestible for mainstream audiences by introducing a note of gentleness and by showing the ‘villains’ to be unambiguously unpleasant. All of which explains the critical success of Williams, and the Broadway success of Anderson.

Subjects: Performing artsTheatre


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Authors

Robert Anderson (b. 1917)