Corn Stock revived the 1953 play “Tea and Sympathy” by Robert Anderson (I Never Sang For My Father) in November as part of its Winter Playhouse season. It was well directed by Rebekah Bourland. The 63- year-old play has not held up and several times I watched slack jawed at the cliches in the dialogue. The play was considered cutting edge when it was produced on Broadway because it explored masculinity and, largely through innuendo, homosexuality. This was the same approach Tennessee Williams took in his “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” two years later. It was eight years after the end of World War II when the country was celebrating military success and buzz cuts or flat-top hair styles were all the rage. Boys were favored and girls were cheerleaders. This was the time of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings and Roy Cohn whispered into Senator Joe McCarthy’s ear about commies under every bed and gays in every closet. McCarthy probably never knew his chief counsel also was in the closet along with the bellicose J. Edgar Hoover over at the FBI. The conflation of homosexuality, communism and un-American activity created a toxic mix that ruined many lives. The most lasting and timely aspect of the play explores the bullying that results from perceived deviation from rigid cultural norms. This, unfortunately, is still a concern today.
Doug Orear played the father of a boy who is sensitive, musical and somewhat shy and who is accused of being gay. Mr. Orear is one of our most interesting local actors and was very good in the role of a macho father struggling to understand the situation. The curtain line, “Years from now when you speak of this, and you will, be kind” is spoken by the wife of an instructor at an all boys school as she begins to disrobe with the boy to, in her mind, help him come to terms with his sexuality. Although it is written to be a sensitive and sympathetic moment I could not help to think that she would be prosecuted today as a sexual predator. Times change.
The Orear family continues to be one of our most creative and productive arts families. Mr. Orear’s wife Pam is one of our most successful local directors and has just taken over as president of Corn Stock. Their son Quinn is a young filmmaker and his “Seeking: Jack Tripper” has just won the New York Film Festival for Best Short. I hope we will have a chance to see it at a local screening which, as of this writing, has not been scheduled.
The Broadway actor, Steve Vinovich will return to his hometown to do a benefit for Corn Stock. Mr. Vinovich was a guest artist at Corn Stock in 2014 when he appeared as the title role in “The Foreigner.” During the past two years, Mr. Vinovich has appeared in “All The Way” on Broadway, Austin, Texas and Cleveland as well as with Robert De Niro in “The Intern.” He has also been understudy in “Love Letters” on Broadway. “Love Letters” is the play he will do here with Cindy Hoey on Dec. 2 to 4. Audience members know Ms. Hoey as an actor but also as the manager of Corn Stock. She is retiring after 16 years at the helm. She has done a remarkable job of “herding cats” and putting out fires in a non-profit arts organization. Anyone who has worked for a board of directors can attest to the people skills required for success. She will be missed.
I will be reading “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens on Dec. 4 at the beautiful and historic GAR Hall on Hamilton Blvd. The reading will begin at 3 p.m. and refreshments will be served at the intermission. The Hall now has an elevator for anyone who has difficulty with stairs. (See editor’s note below.) This year several actors will join me in the reading.
I will be directing “The Feast” on a bill of one-acts at Corn Stock that will open Jan. 13. This will be my last column. I have enjoyed writing about our local and vibrant theater scene. We have many talented practitioners and there is an amazing amount of theater produced. I encourage all to get out and experience “the magnificent invalid.”
Editor’s Note: See article in Community Word (www.TheCommunityWord.com) April 2015 “Widow completes her husband’s dream: He was a warrior for historic preservation.”
Local architect Leslie H. Kenyon, founder and president of Kenyon & Associates architectural firm, was a long-time historic preservationist in Peoria. After he died in 2011 at 88, his widow Theo Kenyon worked to fulfill some of her husband’s works in progress.
One project was dedicated last year. Theo Kenyon was the primary donor of funds for construction of an elevator for the Grand Army of the Republic Greenhut Memorial Hall, 416 Hamilton Boulevard.