Robert Anderson's poignant drama Tea and Sympathy might have premiered on Broadway in 1953, but David Rainey, director of the current Back Porch Players production, says the issues it discusses are as fresh and relevant as ever. "It's the story of [Tom,] a young boy who's going through an awkward time in his life," Rainey says. "He doesn't fit in; he never has. And he's being persecuted because some people suspect him of being a homosexual. It's set in the 1950s, but it's really pertinent now."
Nineteen year old Jacob Perkel appears as Tom, with Joanne Hubbard as Laura, the headmaster's wife and Tom's strongest ally, much to the headmaster's disgust.
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One of the qualities that drew Rainey to the play was its lack of hard, fast answers for the audience. "There's a lot of ambiguity," he says. "As far as whether Tom is or isn't gay, I think people will draw their own conclusions, but they might draw different conclusions based on what they see. And there are some questions about other characters in the play, about whether or not they might be gay and are hiding it or maybe haven't even recognized it yet."
Perkel, a graduate of the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, has a similar opinion. "Whether Tom is gay or isn't gay, it doesn't matter. If he is, that's fine. If he isn't, that's fine, too. I don't think the point of the play is Tom's sexuality. I see it as a story about knowing who you are and, whatever that is, not being afraid to be that."
Rainey, artistic director of Houston's Landing Theatre Company, and an adjunct professor of drama at the University of Houston-Downtown, says that while he can see the temptation to update the 1950s setting to contemporary times in an effort to make it seemingly more relevant, he didn't consider that option. "I tend not to play with [the story] too much. Some directors are very good at doing that, but I tend to look at what the playwright wrote and stick to that. In this particular play, it would be difficult to re-conceptualize it or modernize it. What we can do is to tell a clear story in such a way that a modern audience can get it."
See Tea and Sympathy at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through August 18. Main Street Theater -- Rice Village, 2540 Times Boulevard. For information, call 713-524-6706 or visit the theater's website. $30.