Review: First Ladies Take Center Stage in 'Tea For Three'

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday September 6, 2021

Photo: left to right - Darla Allen (Lady Bird), Claire Leatham (Pat Nixon), and Michelle Mania (Betty Ford).
Photo: left to right - Darla Allen (Lady Bird), Claire Leatham (Pat Nixon), and Michelle Mania (Betty Ford).  

Granite Theatre's "Tea For Three" provides a special look at the lives of some of America's most well-known First Ladies — Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford.

In a series of monologues, the women share the details of their courtships and marriages to Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, as well as their fears and frustrations living in the White House and under the spotlight.

Darla Allen ("Motherhood Out Loud") plays Lady Bird, who comes across as deeply relatable and sympathetic as she discusses the turmoil and divisions over the war in Vietnam.

"We wanted it, but not that way," Lady Bird says of Lyndon's sudden ascent to the Presidency following John F. Kennedy's assassination. Her description of that horrific day in Dallas is deeply haunting.

Pat Nixon (Claire Leatham) laments the defeat of Richard to Kennedy in the 1960 election as well as his resignation in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

Leatham expertly captures Pat's unswerving loyalty to her husband, who she believes was unfairly persecuted by his enemies. We can feel the deep love Pat has for this fascinating man as she recalls their teenage romance.

Michelle Mania ("Motherhood Out Loud") walks away with the show as Betty Ford, a vivacious force of nature who cheerfully gulps down a few glasses of booze while recalling the endless series of parties, receptions, and fundraisers during Gerald's long political career.

She also comments on her fight against breast cancer, as well as her support of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Betty believes Gerald's inherent goodness — his pardon of Richard Nixon cost him re-election in 1976.

"Tea For Three" features solid direction by Jude Pescatello, and a witty and insightful script by Eric H. Weinberger and Elaine Bromka.

Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford all were a part of history and listening to their stories encourages further exploration. They had to navigate turmoil in their personal lives while being married to the leader of the free world. This show is a testament to their resilience and humanity.

Maybe someday, we will be treated to the stories of other former First Ladies, such as Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump. I'm sure they will have plenty of interesting things to say about their time in the White House.


"Tea For Three" runs through September 12. The Granite Theatre, 1 Granite St., Westerly, RI. For tickets, visit granitetheatre.com or call 401-596-2341.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.