AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Matthew Lombardo
Directed by John Tillinger
Starring Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Hepburn
Presented by the Lombardo Organization
Marines Memorial Theatre
609 Sutter St., San Francisco / (415) 771-6900

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Kate Mulgrew, best known to audiences as Capt. Kathryn Janeway in TV's "Star Trek: The Voyager," plays another Kate -- Katharine Hepburn -- in Matthew Lombardo's one-woman play, "Tea at Five." Lombardo sets the action in the living room of the Hepburn family estate in Fenwick, Conn., (cozy set by Tony Straiges). During the first act, which takes place in September 1938, Hepburn has retreated after a series of movie flops and several catty columns by gossip queen Louella Parsons. Between phone conversations with her agent and former lover, Leland Hayward, and speeches to the audience, Hepburn discusses her life, her family and her career, usually with witty observations, but also revealing fears that her career might be washed up.

The second act takes place in February 1983, when the aging Hepburn, suffering from tremors and hobbling from a broken ankle, has presumably retired. This act is more interesting because Hepburn talks about her older brother Tom's suicide and her decades-long affair with Spencer Tracy. Tom, whom she adored, hanged himself when he was 15 and she was 14. In fact, she was the one who found his body and cut it down. Her affair with Tracy, who remained married the whole time and who was a binge alcoholic, was passionate, but for her it bordered on co-dependency.

Although Mulgrew captures the Hepburn mannerisms and voice with accuracy, the play omits some important information, leaving the audience to try to fill in the gaps. One is the significance of "The Philadelphia Story," the movie script that arrives at Hepburn's door at the end of Act 1. (It was a hit.) Another is what film Warren Beatty wanted her to do in Act 2 (the 1994 "Love Affair" with Beatty and his wife, Annette Bening).

Production values are high with direction by John Tillinger, costumes by Jess Goldstein and wigs by Paul Huntley. Kevin Adams' lighting and John Gromada's sound are especially notable for the approaching hurricane they recreate at the end of Act 1.

Overall, "Tea at Five" is mildly entertaining for content but moreso for Mulgrew's performance.

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