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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the April 30, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: `Tea at Five’

During the gossipy, but hardly revelatory two halves

that make up the tepid "Tea at Five," Kate Mulgrew impersonates

Katherine Hepburn. In this non-essential non-play by Matthew Lombardo,

Mulgrew (of "Star Trek: Voyager" fame) gives us posturing

glimpses of the legendary star at her family’s Connecticut shore home

in two different eras. The first act takes place in 1938. A sassy

and svelte red-haired Hepburn is visibly agitated as she paces about

in tailored white slacks. She is keen on telling us how and why she

has been labeled "box-office poison" by the motion pictures

exhibitors of America. Hint: Seven flops in a row will do it every

time.

Mulgrew, who cannot be faulted for capturing all the superficial characteristics

of this idiosyncratic star also captures some of the less appealing

aspects of the star’s personality. She spends an inordinate amount

of time on the phone with her agent campaigning for the role of Scarlett

(in "Gone With The Wind"). She also spends a lot of time twisting

her dexterous legs about the furniture while exchanging some foolishly

insinuating phone messages with Warren Beatty. The second act takes

place in 1983, which now gives Mulgrew a chance to wear gray hair

upswept to frame a frighteningly familiar face. Now notable for its

ticks and tremors, Mulgrew’s performance not only sustains the debilitating

effects of Parkinson’s disease (on Hepburn, now 95), but also serves

to intensify Hepburn’s upper crust breeding.

There is the obligatory scene in which Hepburn rehashes her relationship

with her long-time alcoholic abusive lover and co-star Spencer Tracy,

but it does not provide any new insights. Neither does her protracted

and not particularly poignant recollections of her brother Tom, who

committed suicide at age 15. You’ve heard it all before, even if you

haven’t heard Mulgrew, under John Tillinger’s direction, adopt the

right-on New England twang and the Hepburn twitches. Two stars. Maybe you should have stayed home.

— Simon Saltzman

Tea at Five, Promenade Theater, Broadway at 76th Street,

New York, 212-239-6200. $60.


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