Olin Meadows, AustinonStage.com, Austin, TX
Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Betty Ford – three drastically different women, with one thing in common: the White House.
In the one-woman show TEA FOR THREE, actress and co-writer Elaine Bromka does an amazing – and breathtaking – job of creating believable and yet unbelievable impersonations of each of these iconic women.
Bromka, along with co-writer Eric H. Weinberger, has created a beautiful script, full of humor and heartbreak. The production paints realistic – and often unthought-of – images of the First Ladies. Through her performance, Bromka shows the human side of the controversial wives, mothers and friends.
Every part of this show is perfect, down to the last detail.
From the intimate sets to the spot-on costumes, not to mention the flawless wigs, each element adds to the illusion that you are really having a conversation with Lady Bird, Pat, and Betty. The illusion was so dramatically real that my grandmother – who accompanied me to the performance – said that she forgot they were all played by the same actress.
This show is definitely one of the most entertaining, interesting, and thought-provoking shows I have seen in Austin. I highly recommend taking the time to see this show, and don't forget to stick around for the Q & A after the performance.
This show was a complete masterpiece, and I can't wait to see more from this team. After all, there have been five more First Ladies since Betty gave her last tour! I wholeheartedly give this blockbuster production "6 out of 5 stars"!
March 11, 2010
The Islander, Sanibel, FL
Now there was an evening of theatre that will be long remembered. Elaine Bromka in TEA FOR THREE earned one of the most resounding standing ovations I have ever seen.
And she did, indeed, earn it. Bromka brought to life Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and a giddy, lively Betty Ford. The whole evening should be a model for young actresses. With subtle changes of speech and dialect, clever turns of her body, and, of course, a pocket full of wigs to pull it off, we all re-lived pages of powerful, American history.
If you were there, you surely must have sat as entranced and enthralled as I was. And if you weren't present during that one-night stand, you have my deepest sympathy. You missed a lot.
Bromka brought 30 years of experience in Broadway, Off-Broadway, television and film to the BIG ARTS stage. She gave a seamless invitation to get inside each of the three ladies.
The play was written by Eric H. Weinberger. He clearly deserves some of the accolades, because the lines were superb. One example from Lady Bird: "Ms. Kennedy said I would crawl up Pennsylvania Avenue on my knees across shards of glass for Lyndon… Well, I would say to her, 'depends on how big those shards were.'"
Let's invite Elaine Bromka back again. She played opposite Rich Little in The Presidents for PBS. So, she has a few other ladies up her sleeve. I could sit many nights watching her work to unravel the personalities. I can still hear her saying, with the fiercest fire, Pat Nixon's words about what the first lady job meant: "I loathed it, I loathed it, I loathed it."
I truly am sorry if you missed TEA FOR THREE on March 10th. These one-night stands are rare and I know there are other adventures abounding on this island. But, if Elaine comes back, you will want to be there.
March 18, 2005
Record-Review, Bedford, NY
The Schoolhouse Theater takes on the fictionalized lives of three presidential First Ladies in Eric H. Weinberger's play TEA FOR THREE.
The author creates his vignettes from the biographical and autobiographical material of these ladies. Emmy Award-winning actress Elaine Bromka takes on the personae of Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Betty Ford in this thought-provoking perspective on the politics of love, devotion, and duty of First Ladydom.
"Over the centuries women have been the prodders," says Lady Bird, describing the personal philosophy of the simple, passive but deliberate woman of her time. "You just have to know when to prod."
Pat Nixon comes across at first as unopinionated and vapid, a woman who "knows her place," as it were. As she and the other first ladies become increasing intimate with the audience in a subtle feat of brilliant acting, there is an exfoliation of public courtesies, and we come to know their most private thoughts and emotions; their strengths, perseverance, and courage.
Nostalgic reverie admits us into the events that have shaped these women. Through the reveries, for instance, of Richard Nixon's romantic courtship of Pat, when they used to dance, or the humorously unromantic manner in which Lyndon courted and asked for Lady Bird's hand, we become familiar not only with their formative intimacies, family lives, and personal histories, but are given a glimpse of the personalities of the presidents, through the eyes and hearts of the women who knew the private men, before they entered their all-consuming public lives.
There is sharp juxtaposition as these women move from introspection to the pressing preoccupation of their politics. The Vietnam War, scandal, race relations, and abortion plagued these presidents and their wives alike. The ladies speak sensitively about these issues, not only as women, but also as first ladies, and as wives of the men they love and support, who must form the policies, or suffer the indignities of these issues.
The love they have for their husbands is likewise mired in conflict, and sharply contrasted to their pre-White House lives. The portrayal of the ambivalence of these women is where the delicate finery of Ms. Bromka's art is most noticeable. When Lady Bird's ecstatic reminiscence of her own whistle-stop tour of the South, where Lyndon waited for her proudly in New Orleans with a kiss, is cut short by his in-house phone call ordering her to change her clothes for an afternoon tea.
By imperceptible degrees, Ms. Bromka adds dimension and complexity to a simple country girl, an unhappy, spiritually isolated woman in an unhappy marriage, and a pill-popping alcoholic, all trying to cope with the personal, social and political strains of their new positions. She joins them in a sympathetic bond of womanhood, defined by the triumphs and the sacrifices they have made as first ladies to their country and to their husbands.
March 5, 2004
KDHX, St. Louis, MO
COCA's Women Center Stage Performance Series brought TEA FOR THREE to us last Saturday. It is a gentle, loving insightful visit with three First Ladies – Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Betty Ford. Eric Weinberger, who wrote the piece with actress Elaine Bromka, chose a most fruitful dramatic device to explore the souls of these three women – each is portrayed as her term in the White House is almost finished and she is preparing to introduce her successor to the presidential domicile. It's a perfect, poignant choice, as it presents each woman at a moment filled with reflection, self appraisal, and – as the case may be – relief or hope or bitterness.
Elaine Bromka portrays all three women and she makes them so distinct and so very, very real. The accents are impeccable and each has her own individual physical manner.
Lady Bird Johnson is the one who might have become a caricature – the southern accent, the flamboyant Texan husband – but in Bromka's skillful hands she becomes (I think properly) the strongest and most admirable of the three. Hers was an old-fashioned dedication to simply support her husband in his political career – and this she did most capably indeed. The love between them is glimpsed in a myriad of little details and anecdotes. Lady Bird looks forward to a more relaxed life, away from the harried halls of Washington.
Pat Nixon is shown as an immensely disciplined woman. In her final hours in the White House, embittered by the shame of her husband's resignation in the aftermath of Watergate, she still diligently works hours in answering correspondence. There was a personal awkwardness that seemed so characteristic of Nixon. When we are privileged to share remembrances of the Nixon courtship that awkwardness is there – even when Pat is praising him as a wonderful dancer.
The surprise, for me, of the evening was Betty Ford, who is shown as a rather common, unexceptional woman – a woman who drinks a bit too much. Betty, in her youth, had dated rather many handsome blond young men. Jerry fit that bill, and when in later years she found herself First Lady she was stunned by the power that gave her. She found that her speaking out about breast cancer really made a difference, so she campaigned for other causes – always surprised and delighted that she could, in this way, do such good. Elaine Bromka invests Betty Ford with more than a touch of Lucille Ball – the easy laugh, the rather wild humor, the silliness.
The audience Saturday was about ninety percent female. I felt honored, as a man, to be allowed to share this very intimate and beautiful look at three women who have played the strange and difficult role of one married to immense power.
Island Sun, Sanibel, FL
What a wonderful way to celebrate National Women's History Month…at the White House visiting with Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Betty Ford.
Emmy winner Elaine Bromka not only brought these ladies to life on the stage at Schein Hall in her one-woman show, TEA FOR THREE, but gave us an insight into their personalities, emotions and relationships with their presidential husbands.
As the lights go up on stage, a tall dark-haired woman is arranging flowers. She turns and faces the audience...and there's no mistaking Lady Bird Johnson. While she is awaiting the arrival of the next First Lady, Pat Nixon, for tea and a tour of the White House, Lady Bird begins a no-holds-barred narrative about Johnson's over-the-top persona, his love for the ladies and the fateful day he stepped up to become the president.
Bromka has done her homework. As Lady Bird, she regales us with familiar stories, and some not well known. She clearly comes across as a clever woman, the perfect match for the strong-willed Lyndon, by manipulating him quietly behind the scenes. She said, "Over the centuries, women have been the prodders, you just need to know when to prod."
Bromka has been a professional actress for over thirty years, appearing on Broadway and around the country and in films in various roles. A graduate of Smith College, she returned there as a faculty member to teach Acting for the Media. She wrote the script for TEA FOR THREE: Lady Bird, Pat & Betty with Eric Weinberger and performs the one-woman show throughout the country.
The lights dim and a few minutes later the blond-coiffed Patricia Nixon is nervously wringing her hands as she confesses that she believes "politics is a man's game," and goes on about the Watergate scandal.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Nixon several years ago as she stumped for her husband the first time around. She was sweet, shy and scared to death…Bromka caught that in her impersonation of this lovely First Lady, as she defended the harshness of her husband relating many kinder, gentler moments with him and admits that, while she hates her life in politics, she truly loves him.
Bromka's interpretation of Betty Ford comes across a little bawdy, almost brash, not at all the way I recall her during her days in the spotlight. Her overindulgence with alcohol and use of painkillers is an issue, as she tipples away while sharing tales of her glory days with Jerry in office. Betty readily talks about her slightly wild (for the day) youth, her love of dancing and the fact that she still loves to party. While First Lady she has thrown many galas and unlike her predecessors, gleefully says, "I love this job."
Things become more serious when she talks about her battle with breast cancer and, in fact, she was the first woman to use her notoriety and go public with her experience to the benefit of untold numbers of women. She went on to make substantial inroads in the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse.
Bromka brought these three outstanding First Ladies to life. While many of us in the audience were old enough to remember them, their husbands and the events that surrounded their tenure, Bromka's narrative and humor will please and entertain even those of a younger generation.
March 18, 2005
Times Herald-Record, Middletown, NY
Emmy Award-winner Elaine Bromka impersonates three first ladies in her one-woman show, TEA FOR THREE: Lady Bird, Pat & Betty, written by Eric H. Weinberger with Bromka's collaboration. Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Betty Ford are certainly three different personalities married to three very different successive presidents from 1963-77, but Bromka brought them together for a fascinating evening of monologues laced with insight, emotion and humor.
In her one-act drama, Bromka paused briefly between roles to change wigs and dresses for each of her telling portraits. Lady Bird is remarkably lifelike with the actor's voice, smile and mannerisms perfectly mimicking the lady from Texas who loved giving speeches and devoted herself to Lyndon B. Johnson. Bromka's Lady Bird can be funny as she confesses, "Those chocolates are calling to me," inspiring when she speaks of Head Start and the needs of children, and tragic as she mourns Johnson's political ruin with the Vietnam War and the lack of recognition of his civil-rights achievements.
Bromka dramatizes the private side of Pat Nixon as she faces the crisis of Watergate and her husband Richard M. Nixon's isolation, even from her: "He does not want to talk about it – at least not with me." Pat fondly recalls the past and she admits to her love of privacy in conflict with their public life.
Bromka's Betty Ford is big-voiced and down-to-earth in her outspoken views on abortion and sexual behavior. Betty is obviously addicted to pills and alcohol, but the subject never comes up, at least not yet. She is brave in openly fighting breast cancer and supporting good causes.
TEA FOR THREE was ably directed by Byam Stevens, with impeccable costume designs by Pat Carucci and Bunny Mateosian, and authentic-looking wigs by Robert F. McLaughlin.
October 19, 2004
Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, MA
The three women in TEA FOR THREE: Lady Bird, Pat & Betty have much in common. They are small town girls who married political men who each became president of the United States and served through extraordinary circumstances – the escalation of the Vietnam War in the case of Lyndon Johnson; Watergate in the case of Richard Nixon; the Watergate aftermath and the pardon of Richard Nixon in the case of Gerald Ford.
They also have in common actress Elaine Bromka, who plays each of them in a series of vignettes through tomorrow at the Miniature Theatre in Chester.
Bromka's biggest challenge – and her biggest success – is with Pat Nixon, an intensely private woman who was, by her own account, taught by her father to hold one's emotions in check. "You don't make a public display of them," she says. But it is clear from Bromka's expertly crafted portrait of Mrs. Nixon that a life lived riding herd on one's emotions is beginning to take its toll, especially as the Watergate scandal closes in on her husband and his presidency and she is left to answer her mail and eat her dinners alone. Even in her White House sanctuary, Mrs. Nixon is guarded, saying more with thoughts that remain partially expressed, or completely unexpressed, than with the few revelations she allows herself. It's a wrenching, sad, haunting portrait of a private woman leading a public life.
Under Byam Stevens' direction, Bromka, without cheap mimicry, ably evokes Lady Bird Johnson, who, despite her husband's roaming eyes, has a clearly defined sense of her role and a willingness to play that role; and Betty Ford, a chatty, life-embracing woman who is both eager to leave the White House and also acknowledges that she will miss it. How could she not? As she prepares to welcome her successor, Rosalind Carter, Betty Ford's popularity stands at 70 percent. More than that, she has been able to use that popularity to advocate and advance important social causes that became part of the national discussion. "I have been able to make a difference," she says with justifiable pride. Amen.
October 19, 2004