The Tall Boy– a one-person play by Simon Bent starring Tandy Cronyn is based on The Lost by Kay Boyle and directed by David Hammond, Costume Design by Katherine Rohe, Stage Manager, Katrina Olson and presented as part of United Solo 2019 Tenth Anniversary-“Best of ” Selection on Sept 28th, 2019, on TheatreRow, 410 W. 42nd St.@ 2:00 P.M.
It is Germany, 1946. We are in the American occupied zone. We encounter the storyteller at her desk. She is a US Army official that we learn shall be referred to as, “Missus”. She does not appear to be married, nor have family. What she has is a job and it’s a tough one. The Allies have just defeated the most devastating war machine in history.
A few years earlier that machine had mercilessly conquered the European continents as well as much of Africa. Now, as part of the Allies determination to redress, as best that they can, the horrors of what has transpired, our government has assigned “Missus” the task of finding suitable homes for the Displaced Children who are among the millions of refugees leftover from this war. She must determine if these children from these conquered countries have any living relatives with whom they can be reunited, or at least introduced to. Many of these children, and in the case of this story they are only boys, have been taken in by our army units over the past few years, certainly since D-Day, and adopted somewhat as mascots so that they would not be molested by the Nazis, enslaved, murdered, and/or, simply starve.
Consequently, these young male refugees, grateful to be a part of the winning side and to bask in the camaraderie of such prevailing combat units, not merely learn the American English language of their protectors, but the specific accent and salty vernacular of those who pay them the most attention. Once the soldiers are shipped back to the states these boys are left to her care. She addresses the audience directly. She speaks as herself as well as each of the characters who take part in the story.
This requires an actor of exceptional abilities to conjure the images, sound, desperation, and affected coolness, of these distinct lost youngsters. It also calls for the frustrated sensations of an official dedicated to doing the most good that she can as she’s faced with obstacles ranging from the merely difficult to the unsurmountable. In this presentation of The Tall Boy, that actor is Tandy Cronyn, and we are in excellent hands indeed.
Ms. Cronyn, a veteran of Broadway, Off B’way, Regional and Canadian stages as well as all media is a formidable player with decades of experience and a wide range of performing authors and styles. She is at home with Shakespeare, Shaw, Beckett, and indeed this playwright adaptor, Simon Bent with whom she worked in his play adaptation of A Prayer for Owen Meany. Some years ago, this reviewer had the privilege of being introduced to her talents when she replaced the original lead in the Off Broadway hit, A Shayna Maidel. Presuming correctly that Ms. Cronyn’s heritage did not include a Hebrew tribe, while being mesmerized by her astonishing and exacting portrayal of a Jewess survivor of the Death Camps, I could only conclude then, “Now that’s Acting!”
I’ve been a fan of hers ever since and have observed consistent excellence in all the productions in which she’s been featured. I first saw The Tall Boy some five years ago at this United Solo venue on Theatre Row when it won the award for Best Adaptation. I found it brilliant, illuminating and deeply moving then. Now, it is all that, and more!
At this time in our history, the plight of refugees is of daily concern to those of conscience and remotely aware of how our nation has been seriously diminished in her responsibility in being “the light of the world”. This tale of The Tall Boy illustrates with a poignance that is palpable, the meaning of what trying to “save one” as The Talmud instructs , can be most daunting. The element of racism mixed in with the other refuse portions of war with these children, and particularly the one we come to know as Janos, “the tall boy” who has learned to speak perfect American with a Southern Negro dialect, reflects today, perhaps even more clearly, than when I first heard and beheld his story.
Ms. Cronyn and this play will be coming to Chicago at Stage 773 from December 5 through the 15th. I heartily recommend all who yearn to be deeply moved and further awakened by a stark tale, told with humor, simplicity, and consummate craft, to do themselves a favor and attend!
More about The Tall Boy