note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Katherine Hepburn … Kate Mulgrew
TEA AT FIVE, Matthew Lombardo’s one-woman show about the late, great actress Katherine Hepburn, returned to Boston for a brief run, this time at the Shubert. The play is set on the Hepburn estate in Fenwick, Connecticut, beginning in 1938 when Ms. Hepburn, dubbed "Box Office Poison", is a waiting hopeful for the role of Scarlet O’Hara and ending in her feisty old age but still the colt refusing to be saddled --- Ms. Hepburn takes her ritual tea at five o’clock (a family tradition) and alternates her chat between the audience and the telephone. Mr. Lombardo’s loving tribute is part farewell, part attempt to capture and fix Ms. Hepburn as the eternal free spirit; he gives Ms. Hepburn a psychological handle --- that for all her celebrated independence she remained, at heart, a little girl seeking approval beginning with a cold father and ending with Spencer Tracy, the married, alcoholic love of her life --- but he cheerily, chattily keeps her on the surface and thus TEA AT FIVE becomes little more than an evening of pleasant impersonation.
Kate Mulgrew, best known as a Star Trek commander, does not quite resemble Ms. Hepburn (her face is round whereas Ms. Hepburn’s was all planes and angles) but she captures the vocal rhythms rather well, especially in Act Two, and enough of the flouncing mannerisms (at least, those on display in Ms. Hepburn’s films) though the familiar ticks and twitches due to Parkinson’s disease are downplayed for audience comfort (i.e. “aren’t old people cute?”). TEA AT FIVE soon vanishes from memory --- I cannot quote a single line for you --- but, fortunately Ms. Hepburn’s films remain; she may have been more thorn than rose, but she helped pave the way for more agreeable blooms.