I might even quip “instant tea,” since this one-woman play and tour-de force Elaine Bromka immediately dialed me back 30 to-40 years or more to my UPI/Houston reporting days, when I actually encountered some of these First Ladies and their husbands.
First, this comment: This show deserves a full house, every performance. Performed without intermission with a running time of about 75-80 minutes, you can easily have dinner before or afterwards. And it’s a program that deserves post-show conversation.
Don’t expect Lady Bird, Pat and Betty to simultaneously sit for a hot cup of leafy brew. But do expect to laugh, even if it is sometimes sympathetic laughter. And do expect to learn, if you are of a younger generation, a bit of history about these women and the flawed leaders that they loved and (somehow) supported.
Granted, the audience Thursday night was a mature audience, and, naturally, had a better understanding of the conversational references to seminal events of those presidencies and each woman’s own White House years.
But writers Eric Weinberger and Elaine Bromka – who capably handles the roles and dialogue – have mined the biographies of the trio of distinctly different women to deliver (or remind) the audience of details and conversations that shaped their own destinies, their spouses and, ultimately, a country moving through tumultuous times.
Lady Bird comments, “It’s easer to take off the dress than the pounds,” and recalls her father’s advice on the hasty marriage to Lyndon: “Some of the best deals are made in haste. There are numerous Austin references and a nod to LBJ’s infidelities, but “Bird” concedes that she thought of herself as a :”haven for him to rest.”
Pat Nixon recounts tales of dating, financial sacrifice, protesters, the spitting Venezuelans and reveals her love of cigarettes, her avoidance of food and her lonely last days in the White House. Elaine/Pat captures the pressure, the respect, the passion and the often suppressed emotions of each woman.
Her portrayal of Betty, is inspired and delightful – a giggly, pill-popping, somewhat inebriated First Lady before her clinical endeavors. But also a proud First Wife who knew the power of her unofficial office and the ability to truly make a difference.
And I discovered that the Bird, Pat and Betty all had issues regarding their parents – early deaths, an alcoholic, even a suicide. So many things tie them together. But for all its “trappings,” viewers may discover that being First Lady is not exactly a “tea party.”