​Familiar Face: Bromka to Perform in Sewanee

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

In the insane grip of jealousy, Elaine Bromka once kidnapped a woman, tossed her in a boiler pit and waited for a demolition crew to blow up the home-wrecking temptress.
She’s mellowed with age and on Jan. 19, Bromka will be more civil in portraying the wives of three former presidents in her one-woman show, “Tea For Three: Lady Bird, Pat and Betty” at Guerry Auditorium.
In the early 90s, Bromka, playing Stella on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives,” hatched the plot to destroy Marlena Evans (Deidre Hall) with that boiler pit explosion and she’ll likely be a familiar face to TV fans. She’s appeared in a wide field of shows such as “Girls,” “Law & Order,” “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos.” She also played Cindy Russell, the mom from the movie “Uncle Buck.”
Bromka, 67, said via telephone that when her son and daughter were teenagers, they would switch the channel when mom was on TV, but now they appreciate her work. In fact, it was her daughter, a writer, who challenged Bromka to pen her own play, which became “Tea for Three.”
An Emmy Award winner and accomplished stage actress, Bromka said in her 30-plus year career, the roles for women haven’t changed a lot—another reason to write your own play.
“I’m so grateful for the show because the opportunities for women continue to be so limited—a crying mom, or I don’t know, the principal of a school. A very narrow spectrum of emotions,” she said. “We need more women writers and they are out there and we need them to be produced.”
Bromka said her show is an intimate look at Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Betty Ford.
“I want people to know that the play is very funny along the way but ultimately it’s really an uplifting evening of theatre and that is the kind of theatre I believe in,” she said. “I think you should walk out with a lot to talk about and a feeling of hope.”
She has performed Tea for Three in 26 states since 2004. The idea developed after she starred as eight first ladies opposite impersonator Rich Little in “The Presidents,” a touring show also featured on PBS. She recalled having dinner with Little and he was studying his thumbs to try and get a better idea of how President Ronald Reagan carried himself. She said she wanted to bring that same level of detail to Tea For Three, which she co-wrote with Eric H. Weinberger.
“I worked at the National Theatre of the Deaf for three years and I really believe that we communicate first and foremost through our bodies. So I studied the body language of the women and their voices,” she said.
Her research also included interviews with Luci Baines Johnson, Lady Bird’s daughter, and personal secretaries and friends who knew the first ladies well.
“We were really interested in a psychological study rather than a resuscitation of history. So we leave in the history but we really take you into their hearts,” she said.
Jim Crawford, an associate theatre professor at Sewanee, helped bring Bromka’s show to town. The two met when he worked at SMU in Texas and she was teaching a class there.
“He’s a wonderful teacher,” she said. “Sewanee is very lucky to have him. Very down to earth guy.”
When asked about some of her roles, Bromka talked about learning the business side of show business from Deidre Hall, how she idolized Vanessa Redgrave, and the fun she had with the late comedic legend John Candy.
“I had a hilarious time doing the mom in Uncle Buck,” she said. “John Candy was such a gentle person and very introverted actually. He wasn’t looking for the limelight all the time.”
Bromka is slated to make an appearance in Judd Apatow’s upcoming HBO comedy “Crashing,” but she says nowadays her best acting is with her three-year-old granddaughter.
“As an actor, oh my God it doesn’t get better,” she said. “You get to go absolutely wild and they love it. More than going wild yourself you get to be in the moment. I can see everything through her eyes; it’s so electric for both of us.”
Admission to “Tea for Three” is free and the show begins at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 19, at Guerry Auditorium.