TEA FOR THREE: LADY BIRD, PAT & BETTY | East Villager & Lower East Sider

TEA FOR THREE: LADY BIRD, PAT & BETTY

Photo by Ron Marotta You’ll laugh, you’ll cry: Elaine Bromka, as Betty Ford.
Photo by Ron Marotta
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry: Elaine Bromka, as Betty Ford.

TEA FOR THREE: LADY BIRD, PAT & BETTY  Three gold frames hang on the back wall of a room in the White House — where we’re about to meet a trio of first ladies in the waning hours of their reign. There’s no portrait or picture within them…and as the tight, 80-minute “TEA FOR THREE” plays out, the conspicuously empty space inside those gilded adornments will speak volumes about how we project our own values, opinions and desires onto the blank canvas of people we think we know (even if we’ve never actually met them).

Credit director Byam Stevens for that telling visual metaphor. The writing, by Eric H. Weinberger and Elaine Bromka, has its own stealthy dramatic conceit: Each presidential wife we’re about to meet (Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Betty Ford) is reflecting on life in the White House, just as the new first lady is about to show up for the grand tour. About to be stripped of their duties (or freed from them as the case may be), this unique place in time affords them the rare chance to offer unusually candid opinions. Depending upon their disposition and the reason their hubby left office, the tea room becomes a confessional, a wartime bunker or the backroom of a speakeasy during last call. It’s a great premise to throw at lone cast member Bromka — a disciplined theater vet whose mastery of each woman’s voice, posture and temperament is as far from mimicry as one could possibly hope to expect. She’s especially good when required to make the swift shift from self-aware humor to clueless pathos. Played as a fun-loving gal who just wants the party to go on, her Betty Ford is especially poignant — a survivor of breast cancer who hasn’t yet been stopped in her tracks from the booze and pills she downs with skill and aplomb. Moments like that (and there are plenty of them) will stay with you — even if you don’t know much about the era in which these three women occupied the White House.

Through June 29. Wed.-Sat. at 8pm. Matinees Wed. & Sat. at 2pm & Sun. at 3pm. At The Theatre at 30th Street (259 W. 30th St., btw.7th & 8th Aves.). For tickets ($45), call 212-868-4444 or visit teaforthree.com. Visit teaforthree.com.

—Scott Stiffler