"Tea and Sympathy"
Just last week, a jury found Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi guilty of committing a hate crime in using a webcam to spy on a homosexual encounter involving Tyler Clementi, his violinist roommate, who subsequently committed suicide.
So you'd think a story about a shy, music-loving teenager ostracized as a "fairy" might have resonance, even if it did make its first bow in 1953. But the creaky joints in Robert Anderson's "Tea and Sympathy," now in a revival with the Artistic Home, need more physical therapy than David New's respectful but predictable staging can provide.
Laura Reynolds (Kate Tummelson) is a faculty wife and "house mother" at a preppy boarding school on the East Coast. Her husband, Bill (Peter DeFaria), is striving to be headmaster some day and curries favor with the academy's alpha males, while disdaining quiet Tom Lee (Andrew Cutler), who prefers folk singing to sports. When a rumor about Tom and another teacher at the school takes root, Laura tries to intervene beyond the "tea and sympathy" that her informal job requires.
It is of course true that homophobia harms straight people who don't fit the narrow molds of "normal" gender-based behavior as well as gay people, but Anderson's reluctance to make Tom actually gay seems like a cop-out at best. At worst, it provides tacit agreement that being gay is somehow repugnant.
One can argue that the real subject is how vicious rumormongering destroys lives. But what might have seemed groundbreaking nearly 60 years ago feels musty now. The Artistic Home has excelled in the past at giving fresh vigor to classics, but the generally excellent cast in this production too often feels as if they're treading water in the soapsuds of Anderson's dialogue.
Tummelson is indeed a sympathetic presence, though a tad young for the part, and Cutler makes an auspicious debut as Tom. Kevin Gladish as Tom's well-meaning but clueless dad, Herb, and Nick Horst as Al, Tom's roommate, also deliver strong turns. However, DeFaria overplays the gruffness and swagger of Bill, who, Anderson coyly suggests, is a closet case himself. This "Tea" needs a shot of stronger spirits to get across to a contemporary audience.
Through April 22 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.; $28-$32 at 773-327-5252 or stage773.org
"Hansel und Gretel"
Blake Montgomery and the Building Stage have also long excelled at giving an inventive spin to classics, but with "Hansel und Gretel," their deconstructionist mojo seems stuck in neutral. Devised by Montgomery as a blend of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale and the Engelbert Humperdinck opera, the result is decidedly monochromatic, especially by the usually high standards of innovation set by this company.
There are clever touches, as when Chelsea Keenan's Gretel and Pamela Maurer's Hansel (imprisoned by the witch) start riffing with "Great Escape" scenarios. Jenny Lamb's evil stepmother/witch starts off strong but descends into mugging, and Ian Knox's Father feels stranded on the sidelines. Amusing stage business and Matthew Muniz's live piano score keep things lively, but the heart of the enterprise gets lost in the thickets.
Through April 22 at the Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter St.; $22 at 312-491-1369 or buildingstage.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times