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Katherine Hepburn's " Tea At Five "


rohale
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One talented Kate plays another in a production play titled " Tea At Five ", triumphing over shallow material with a masterful performance.

 

Katherine Hepburn fixes us with one of her famous stiletto stares, then fumes as only she could " Everyone knows this part was written for me, I AM Scarlett O'Hara ". I've never forgotten this line from this legendary actress.

 

Ironically the same line can be applied to actress Kate Mulgrew, who plays Hepburn to absolute spooky perfection at the Pasedena Playhouse in Matthew Lombardo's one woman play " Tea At Five ". I suppose it's fair to say that anyone who has followed her career is aware of her uncanny resemblence to the other Kate: the stentorian voice, the queenly bearing, the chin that could cut steel. Lombardo claims that he discovered Mulgrew after watching a few minutes of Star Trek Voyager, whilst channel flipping one day, and he says it took only five seconds for him to become inspired. I must admit, I dont really care for Star Trek at all, but I did realise why Lombardo would have an absolute fascination with Kate Mulgrew. As the old expression " Lightning Strikes Twice In A Bottle ". Without a shadow of a doubt Mulgrew got a second wind in her career with this production play. What followed after Lombardo's brilliant discovery was a script which matierialised almost instantly, followed by a New York debut, then accolades.

 

Hepburn in her day didn't get the most coveted part in 30's Hollwood, of course " Gone With The Wind's " memorable horoine was played by a young unknown named Vivian Leigh ( who eventually married Sir Lawrence Olivier " ). Hepburn's early career slump continued until a play with the uncompromising name of " The Philadelphia Story " landed on her doorstep. After that, her Broadway and film world fortunes took a turn for the better ( So did her love life-she met Spencer Tracy soon afterwood, while filming " Woman Of The Year " )

 

The first half of Lombardi's play focuses on Hepburn at this crucial point in her career. The year is 1938. She has starred in six straight flops and the gossip columnists are circling like sharks smeling chum; her high handedness has earned her the title " Katherine Of Arrogance." A nasty Louella Parsons column features an unflattering photo of the 31 year old star " I look like Boris Karloff in a jump suit, for some devishly reason the press isn't fond of me " she sighs , then smiles smiles devishly " The Feeling Is Mutual ".

 

This is the less successful half of Lombardo's script, and Mulgrew's performance, while admirable, seems more suface-y here. The Hepburn-isms are almost too perfectly mannered, their delivery too calculated.

 

In the play's second half, though, Lombardo finally casts aside the catty one-liners and the shallow issues of an actress stage and film career to explore more revealing facets of Hepburn's many-sided personality.

 

The audience is taken in time more than four decades to 1983. Hepburn is still living in the homre where she grew up-her father's seaside Connecticut estate-but the years have changed everything. Snow flakes float past the window.

 

Now well into her 70's and suffering from Parkinson's disease adn other ailments, Katherine Hepburn officially retires. Warren Beatty sends flowers as regularly as clockwork, begging her to return to the screen one last time ( presumably " Love Affair ".

 

Hepburn is just as feisty as her younger self, but she is given moments of reflection and even, on occasion, regret about she lived her long life. The audience learns about the details of her 27 year affair with Spencer Tracy, who never left his wife for her. We also learn about the death of her beloved older brother, Tom, at 15. The circumstancs surrounding that tragedy lead to more revelations about dark family secrets adn some clues to the reasons for Hepburn's take-no-prisoners persona.

 

I never felt that Lombardo went as far as he should-certainly not as far as the recent biographies which deal with her sexuality ( she had affairs with women ) and her tempestuous relationship with Howard Hughes. And Hepburn's stormy descent into the 3 a.m of her soul is too brief, and in retrospect, too perfunctory. It seems inserted to give the play's second act requisite weight rather than taking it legitimately serious territory.

 

Bur for someone like myself, this is one of those " Belle Of Amherst " scripts in which the material is simply a vessel with just enough breadth for the star to perform her calisthenics. Offcourse Mulgrew satisfies those requirements spectacularly in the second act. Her aging Hepburn seems more deepily thought out, and the emotions she expresses are more genuine.

 

Director John Tillinger is more assured with matters of blocking and focus, and scenic designer Tony Straiges provides some deft touches to show a room filled with career touchstones and crucial family momentos- the perfect lair for a retired actress.

 

I have no doubt that Kate Mulgrew could play this role until the cows come home or she decides to retire herself. For her sake, I hope that Lombardi has another Hepburn play inside him - perhaps one that plumbs the greater depths of life so rich and fascinating it couldn't possibly be contained in one two-hour monologue.

 

As for Hepburn herself, I've always loved her films and part of that attitude was due to my parents. When I was growing up in London within the 80's, watching the Sunday matinees on BBC 1 became part of our viewing habits. For most months, my father couldn't afford to pay for the central heating bill, what we did to compensate for living in a cold and very damp house was to huddle in front of the fireplace in our living room and watch the Sunday matinees on telivision. Those days are long gone, but I always appreciated that my mum and dad would allow me to watch those old black & white films. One of my earliest film memories from my childhood was believe it not from Tracey and Hepburn's 1948 classic " Adams Rib ". I reminded my parents individualy of this not too long ago, a bit of a shock element for my father in particular. I've probably seen the film maybe three times in my whole life, but I still love the movie to this day.

 

Back in the 30's and 40's, Pinewood Studious were at the top in the film industry with veteran actors like Jack Hawkins and newcomers who would later have successful careers such as the likes of John Mills and Alec Guinness. In those days Hollwyood definitely gave Pinewood and Twickeham Studious a run for their money. The successuful performers who captured Britian's attention in those days were performers like Carole Lombard and offcourse Katherine Hepburn. She made a lasting impression for two generations who grew up on her films. Sir Peter O'Toole who starred opposite Hepburn on " The Lion In Winter " called her the " Great Ma'am". He's often stated that he could speak his mind around her and said that she was a perfectionist and he adored and admired her for staying at Spencer Tracey' side towards the end of his own life.

 

For someone life Mulgrew to take a on performance such as playing Hepburn is very classy and gutsy, it could have easily have gone wrong, but she made the performance her own. Being at the Pasedena Playhouse a few days ago, it was a joy and tremendous fun to be part of the audience.

 

Rohale

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It is Katharine, not Katherine

 

I just read A. Scott Berg's overly fauning book on Hepburn called "Remembering Kate." I am not a Hepburn fan (except for "Long Day's Journey into Night")so had to struggle to get through the book, but can tell you that Hepburn would give any true fan who spelled her first name wrong holy hell. Her first name is Katharine. Frankly, I agree with Kate on this -- how could you have gotten her name wrong if you were willing to spend so much time on the play review?

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RE: It is Katharine, not Katherine

 

>I just read A. Scott Berg's overly fauning book on Hepburn

>called "Remembering Kate." I am not a Hepburn fan (except for

>"Long Day's Journey into Night")so had to struggle to get

>through the book, but can tell you that Hepburn would give any

>true fan who spelled her first name wrong holy hell. Her first

>name is Katharine. Frankly, I agree with Kate on this -- how

>could you have gotten her name wrong if you were willing to

>spend so much time on the play review?

 

 

Oh indeed, that's a very good question. I'll answer something along the lines that I made a mistake, however to be fair, I'm not a perfectionist. I didn't have the luxury of reading Mr Bergs' book as you so nobly did Mr Alarm. If I had done precisely that I would have done justice and honoured her name the way she did in her respective time.

 

There is a bit of an irony since you recently had the privelege of reading Mr Berg's book. Which in turn can be interpreted that like most people you probably would have spelled her name differently than the way Miss Hepburn would have done. For that alone, you and I would be in " Holy Hell " as you so nicely described it Mr Alarm. How's that for size.

 

Ro

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Most well-known movie star of the 20th century????

 

You stated:

 

"Like her or not, Hepburn was the most well know movie star of the 20th century."

 

How can you say that? I agree, she was ONE of the most well known movie stars of the 20th century, but the MOST well-known???? Isn't that your "personal" opinion, and an opinion that could be debated endlessly? Since the movies reached their zenith in the 20th century, with many, many stars, I just don't understand how Hepburn deserves the title of "most well known"

 

Is she more well-known than many others, some contemporary, and some not? To name just a few: Shirley Temple, all the Barrymores, Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe (she alone shoots down your designation), Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, James Dean, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, oh wtf, I could go on all night in my refutations!, but I think I made my point with just this short list! :7

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RE: Most well-known movie star of the 20th century????

 

In 1999, there were many poll of critics or the general public for the greatest, most well known, most popular movie actor/actress (and just about every other category you can mention) of the 20th century. Hepburn (whom I have alredy made clear I never particularly liked as an actress or person) always finished at the top or near the top in all these polls, with only Bogart and Monroe as competition. You are right. I was wrong to single Hepburn out as the MOST well known, but she would certain be in the top 3 or 4.

 

Again I have made such a point of this, in a tongue and cheek way, because apparently nothing annoyed Hepburn more than to receive a gushing 4 or 5 page "you are my favorite" fan letter that spelled her name incorrectly. There were about 1,000 other things that annoyed Hepburn according to A. Scott Berg in "Kate Remembered," all of which the fauning Berg found endearing. My reaction: you must be kidding; the only reason you are spending so much time with this obnoxious woman is to write a book.

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