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Tea and Sympathy

Tea and Sympathy
Corn Stock Winter Playhouse

November 11-12 & 17-20

Corn Stock Theatre’s Winter Playhouse continues its 39th season with the ‘Tea and Sympathy’ at the Corn Stock Theatre Center, located at 1700 N Park Road in Peoria, just south of the Tent in upper Bradley Park.

The story revolves around a young man who is having trouble fitting in at his private boys’ school. He develops an innocent but powerful attraction to the wife of his housemaster, who is herself in an uncertain situation and has lent an understanding and sympathetic ear. The play explores what it means to be “manly” and who is the best judge of masculine behavior.

“Tea and Sympathy” is an uncommonly touching play that became an instant success and ran for two years on Broadway in 1953-4 – an unusual length of time for a drama. Soon after closing, “Tea and Sympathy” was released as a movie starring Deborah Kerr and John Kerr (no relation) and this drove the play into the popular culture. Playwright Robert Anderson went on to write several other pieces for the stage, including “I Never Sang for My Father” and a series of sketches which became “You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running.” He wrote for both movies and TV and was a respected Broadway producer.

Corn Stock Theatre presented “Tea and Sympathy” in its 1957 summer mainstage season. Although the topics of masculine behavior, bullying, adolescence, and unhappy marriage were somewhat raw for the conservative Corn Stock audience of the late 50’s, Anderson’s well-crafted script made the show a big success with the Corn Stock patrons. Now presented in the more intimate Corn Stock Theatre Center, director Rebekah Bourland says it’s the perfect venue for the show. “Being so small and in-the-round, it’s like you are in the living room listening to a conversation you aren’t contributing to,” she said.

The pivotal role is that of Laura (portrayed by Amy Sanders), the new wife of housemaster at a boys’ school in New England. A former actress, Laura meets her husband Bill, (portrayed by Jeramie Glass) in Italy while he is on sabbatical. They fall in love and, needing a wife to advance his position at the school, they marry and he brings her to the campus. As they learn more about each other, they find that perhaps they are not very well matched. She tries to find a meaningful role for herself in the life of the school, but it is very isolating for her. She strikes up a friendship with a rather eccentric young man, Tom (Nick Seaman) who lives in the dorm where her husband is the housemaster. He develops an adolescent crush, but as a boy who prefers music and theatre to football, he too feels isolated and victimized in the school community. The cast also features veteran actor Doug Orear as Tom’s father Herb, who is more concerned with Tom’s appearance of masculinity than what his son may actually be experiencing at the boarding school. The impressive ensemble includes Brian Haas, Jake Van Hoorn, Courtney Arnett, Richard Smith, and Nathanael Anderson.

The dialogue and structure of “Tea and Sympathy” is masterful. Anderson’s characters develop naturally and the story is presented in casual conversations and overlapping scenes. It is very believable and easy to watch, as it touches on the themes of masculinity, bullying, family relations, and social isolation.

Said director Rebekah Bourland, “I was just a kid working props the first time Corn Stock did “Tea and Sympathy”, but the story always stayed with me and the actors in that play were like gods to me. It was always in the back of my mind that I would like to direct the script some day. It contains many subtle truths and observations that are just as relevant today as they were in 1957.”
Tea and Sympathy opens this Friday, November 11, and continues November 12, 17, 18, 19 at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, November 20 at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $12/Adult, $8/Student (with Student ID). Call 309-676-2196 or visit for more information.

Posted on November 8, 2016