Tandy Cronyn in “The Tall Boy” Review – The Past becomes the Present

Tandy Cronyn as the Matron in "The Tall Boy" at Stage 773, Photo: Justin Curtin
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I had the wonderful opportunity of seeing Tandy Cronyn in a one woman show. Jeff Landsman, in association with Artistic New Directions, is presenting Tandy Cronyn, a veteran New York and regional stage actor, in The Tall Boy, a play by Simon Bent based on “The Lost” by Kay Boyle, directed by David Hammond. It is a short run, playing at Stage 773, (Stage773.com. ) 1225 W. Belmont Ave. only until December 15th.  There is a treat in store for all who attend.  As my companion noted, the audience is in the presence of “Acting royalty”.

For lovers of theater, the opportunity to experience Tandy Cronyn creating magic should not be missed. Entering the theater, a radio is announcing the end of a difficult war. Roosevelt, Churchill and an announcer describe crowds, parades and celebrations.  The stage is set with a cot, a desk and a stand for a radio and a thermos.  No curtain, no change of sets or costumes.  Some lighting and sounds embellish the work.  Otherwise, it is the skill and brilliance of Tandy Cronyn seamlessly moving in and out of many roles, rapidly sharing their characters, with a range of accents and gestures that brought me into the time and space of the story.

Tandy Cronyn, “The Tall Boy”, Photo: Justin Curtin

The Tall Boy is told by the American matron of an orphanage for “displaced children” in occupied Germany following World War II. While this theme may seem “outdated”, the story actually becomes more relevant each day.

We learn about three boys: a 15-year-old Czech, a 14-year-old Pole and a 12-year-old  Italian. The end of the war means that these boys who have become mascots to the GIs, are suddenly displaced persons who need to either be reunited with their own family or settled with an adoptive family who will care for them. The matron, who is responsible for the boys, is surprised they speak English so well. The boys have picked up the character of the GI’s who cared for them. In this 70- minute tale, there is so much to digest.  It is directed by David Hammond, Staged managed by Sarah West, with Lights & Sound by Ian Felker and Costume Design by Kathryn Rohe.

Speaking with Tandy Cronyn following the show, she shared that this project has been eight years in the making.  She was looking for a theme for a one-person show and followed a recommendation to explore the works of Kay Boyle, a prolific writer. She liked Kay Boyle‘s short story, “The Lost,” which was originally published in a collection titled “Smoking Mountain: Stories of Germany During the Occupation.” Tandy acquired the rights and commissioned a stage adaptation from British playwright, Simon Bent. The script has been presented in various venues across the United States including the 2014 United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City where it sold out and won the ‘Best Adaptation’ Award.  This September, The Tall Boy returns to New York City and the10th Anniversary Solo Festival as one of the shows invited to participate in its “The Best Of” category featuring critically-acclaimed and audience favorites from previous Solo Festivals.

Tandy Cronyn generously agreed to answer the questions below:

Q: What inspired this revival?

A: I don’t really think of this Chicago production as a revival.  THE TALL BOY has been in development for years and has only been performed sporadically because I’m not a good producer and have found self-producing such a demanding (on the performer) play stressful beyond belief.  This Chicago production came about because I found a co-producer in Jeff Landsman, without whom this booking would not have been possible.  But I look on all the productions I have mounted over the years as a continuous development of this fascinating and increasingly timely story.

Q: How long is the tour?

A: I’ve not considered this a tour as my bookings for THE TALL BOY have been so sporadic over the years.  I did my first workshop staged reading of the piece at Guilford College in 2011 and had the world premiere in 2012 at the University of North Texas. The show has always continuds to evolve over the years, with my having to rediscover my performance each time I re-mounted a production for a new theater like the Clarence Brown Theater’s Carousel Theater at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; or the Studio Theater in Theater Row for New York’s United Solo Festival and the Courthouse Theater in Rhode Island. 

Q: When were you last in Chicago
A: In 2005 I appeared in Jeff Sweet’ play, BERLIN ’45, at Victory Gardens.

Q: Is there anything about the play you want to share with Chicago readers?

A: I think our present refugee crisis has some parallels in the aftermath of WW II.  Also, the racial injustice then and now.  We seem to move forward, but find ourselves coming full circle to the same injustices.  Will we ever learn? I hope the play makes people think about these issues through the longer  lens of  history.

Tandy Cronyn, “The Tall Boy”, Photo: Justin Curtin


The Tall Boy is proud to be part of the 2019 Year of Chicago Theatre, presented by the City of Chicago and the League of Chicago Theatres. To truly fall in love with Chicago, you must go to our theatres. This is where the city bares its fearless soul. Home to a community of creators, risk-takers and big hearts, Chicago theatre is a hotbed for exciting new work and hundreds of world premieres every year. From Broadway musicals to storefront plays and improv, there’s always a seat waiting for you at one of our 200+ theatres. 

The current running time is 70 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $35 – $39 and are available at the Stage 773 box office, calling 773.327.5252 or going to (Stage773.com)

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