Tea and Sympathy (play)

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First edition
(publ. Random House)

Tea and Sympathy is a 1953 stage play in three acts by Robert Anderson.

The play is about a male private school student, Tom Lee, who faces accusations of homosexuality. A woman, Laura, who is married to an instructor, opposes the students' shaming of Lee and romantically pursues him so he can prove that he has a masculine character.[1]

Everett Evans of the Houston Chronicle wrote that the play was "one of the first plays to tackle the then-taboo topic of sexual orientation and related prejudice."[2] Evans stated that the play's final line, "Years from now, when you speak of this, and you will, be kind," is "one of the most quoted curtain lines in stage history".[2]


  • Tom Lee – A student at a New England preparatory school who is accused of being effeminate and is targeted after sunbathing with a male professor.[2]
  • Bill Reynolds – The head of Tom Lee's dormitory house, Bill is hyper-masculine and in conflict with Tom. He prefers activities with the boys to spending time with his wife, Laura, from whom he is distant. Everett Evans of the Houston Chronicle wrote that Bill married Laura "apparently" because colleagues pressured him into doing so, and that "The play suggests Bill's persecution of Tom stems from doubts about his own masculinity."[2]
  • Laura Reynolds – The wife of Bill, Laura assists Tom and helps him during his troubles.[2]

The play[edit]

Broadway premiere[edit]

The play premiered on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on September 30, 1953, in a production by The Playwrights' Company, directed by Elia Kazan and designed by Jo Mielziner. The play starred Deborah Kerr, Leif Erickson, and John Kerr. It transferred to the Longacre Theatre, and later the 48th Street Theatre. It had a total run of 712 performances. During the run, Joan Fontaine and Anthony Perkins took over the roles played by Deborah Kerr and John Kerr.


The play was first performed in London at the Comedy Theatre under membership conditions, because of the ban imposed by the Lord Chamberlain.


A French adaptation was presented at the Théâtre de Paris, Paris, starring Ingrid Bergman and Jean-Loup Phillipe and directed by Jean Mercure.


The play was adapted into a 1956 film. In 1956 Bob Thomas of the Associated Press wrote that "many said [the play] could never be made into a movie."[1]


In 2013 Everett Evans of the Houston Chronicle wrote that "Sixty years on, this once controversial play is a little dated, but a lot more timely, its potent moments outweighing its imperfections. When you speak of 'Tea and Sympathy', be kind."[2]


  1. ^ a b Thomas, Bob. "Deborah Kerr Signs For Unusual Role." Associated Press at the Milwaukee Sentinel. Thursday May 17, 1956. Part 2, Page 15. Retrieved from Google News (9 of 18) on November 8, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Evans, Everett. "Sensitive 'Tea and Sympathy' teaches lesson of acceptance." Houston Chronicle. August 7, 2013. Retrieved on November 8, 2013.

External links[edit]