Stage 773 News: Preview of TALL BOY, a Timely Child Refugee Story

Stage 773 THE TALL BOY
Tandy Cronyn, with her parents and legendary actors Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn Photo by Sam Siegel

When:
December 5 – 15, 2019

Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m
Sundays at 3 p.m.

Where:
Stage 773
1225 W. Belmont Ave.
Chicago

Tandy Cronyn, the child of two legendary actors (Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn),  and highly regarded actress in her own right, will be performing a solo performance of THE TALL BOY, a play by Simon Bent based on The Lost  by Kay Boyle and directed by David Hammond.  This work is described as a timely story of child refugees in the aftermath of World War II, a winner of the Best Adaptation award at New York City’s United Solo Festival.  Here, Picture This Post (PTP) discusses the project with Tandy Cronyn (TC).

Stage 773 THE TALL BOY
Tandy Cronyn Photo by Trix Rosen

(PTP)  How did you decide to adapt a performance with the emotional weight such as The Tall Boy?

(TC) I had been thinking about doing a solo show for years and years, but either couldn’t find material that really inspired me or couldn’t get the rights, or I started a project and had it come to naught.  The playwright, Jeffrey Sweet, an old friend, suggested among other ideas that I have a look at the writer Kay Boyle who had a long and fascinating life and I started to do some research on her although I was not keen on doing a biographical story.  I randomly picked one of her many volumes of short stories of the shelf of the NY Public Library called Smoking Mountain: Stories of Germany During the Occupation.  I read the book from cover to cover, deeply interested in the setting since I had gone to school in Germany a decade or more after the collection’s time period. But there was one story, The Lost, that grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let me go. The orphaned boys in this story, GI Mascots, desperate to follow their US Army units back to the States, says much about both the fragility and resilience of children. It’s an unusual story that I felt needed to be told, but also one that had personal fascination for me.

How do you feel this period piece can be compared to race and political relations in modern America? 

There are huge similarities between then and now, particularly our attitudes towards immigrants.  We eventually opened up the doors, maybe by 1947, but America has been isolationist more than once in the past and it’s happening all over again now, with a vengeance.  Also there is a racial theme in THE TALL BOY that reminds us that things have not changed as much as we hoped.

How do you hope audiences will resonate with this story?

I have found that audiences are drawn into this story, although I suspect that the reasons for that are different and personal for each individual. The boys, all differently imprinted by the American soldiers who took them in, each have a distinct story to tell.  Since theater is supposed “to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature” I can only hope that each audience member sees something to relate to personally – how children cope with adversity?  How adaptable they are? How easily damaged, in some cases?  I personally loved they way define themselves through the American language they learned from their soldier buddies.

This being a one woman show, how did you find the voices and mannerisms for each individual character?

It’s the same process as finding your character in a play where you play just one role, but here I looked out for characteristics that would differentiate the characters in this story.  Kay Boyle describes in her short story very particularly how the boys sound and I paid close attention to that, but I also put a lot of thought into how their body language might differ.

Stage 773 THE TALL BOY
Tandy Cronyn in an early family picture including her brother, Chris, (front row left) and her half-sister, Susan in the back along with herself, and parents Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy-- circa early 50's Photo Courtesy of Tandy Cronyn

What was your biggest challenge/hurdle when developing this show?

I have had long gaps between performances, so I have tried to re-discover the piece with each new booking.  I always find something new or different, probably because the story percolates in the back of my head when I’m not consciously thinking about it.  The biggest hurdle was probably switching smoothly between characters when I have dialogue scenes between them – you can’t pause between the lines, the story has to keep moving.  There is one scene between the three boys, all talking or fighting amongst themselves – that’s not easy!

Which character in the show do you feel you can most relate to and why?

This is like asking a mother which of her children she loves best.  I love them all. I’m very indebted to Simon Bent, who adapted Kay Boyle’s short story.  The Lost is a perfect short story but adapting it for the stage required some ingenuity.  The title character, the oldest of the three boys, is quite passive in the story, and Simon found ways to make him more active, more dramatic.  The scenes between two or three characters are technically difficult, but a joy to play.

Do you have any strong recollections of stories your parents told you of this time period/when the story was set—and which they experienced in more real-time?

My mother came from London with my half-sister in 1940. My father, a Canadian, tried very hard to enlist in any of the armed services but was always turned down for medical reasons.  I’ve chosen to think of THE TALL BOY as happening in the first year after the war, 1946 and I don’t recall much that my parents might have said about the early post-war years.

Tickets:

$35+

For tickets visit the Stage 773 box office, or call 773.327.5252 or visit the Stage 773 website. Stage773.com.

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