Hartford Courant
February 15, 2002
After The Ovations & Libations, Kate's Party Fits Her To A Tea
By Pat Seremet
A HUG FROM HER HUSBAND and hosannas from her fans: Kate Mulgrew enjoys an after-theater congratulatory squeeze Wednesday night from her main squeeze, Tim Hagan. 
Photo by Pat Seremet
It was late; it was great; it was Kate.

This was a theater party to remember.

Kate Mulgrew had just completed a tour de force performance at Hartford Stage Wednesday night, portraying Katharine Hepburn in the new play "Tea At Five," which the hometown crowd adored.

"Tea" was a splendid brew, with enough lumps of sugar to satisfy the fans and just enough lemon to appease the gossip set.

And after "Tea at Five," it was "Cocktails and Smokes at 10," as the Ancient Order of the Hepburnians gathered at a cool new downtown club called Vado's on Allyn Street to party and pay homage to Mulgrew.

"I was knocked out," said the normally understated WTIC-AM afternoon host Colin McEnroe. "It was a bravura performance that pulled out all the stops."

McEnroe thinks people in Hartford will just lap it up, what with all the local references. "It even needles The Courant," he said. "It dumps every skeleton out of the closet."

And that is what worries McEnroe. He thinks the play may upset the Hepburn family. He has talked with Hepburn's niece Katharine Houghton, and he said she "had real apprehension" about it.

"There are overtones of lesbianism," McEnroe said, "and almost a hint at more than a filial attraction between Katharine and her brother Tom."

McEnroe is sympathetic to the Hepburns. He's working on a memoir about his father, Bob McEnroe, a Broadway musical show writer who, incidentally, knew Katharine Hepburn's brother Dick.

"You don't want all your secrets told," McEnroe said.

That may be a topic for another day.

On this night, it was how Kate played Kate.

"She was just riveting," said David Fay, executive director of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. "I'm a `Star Trek' fan, and I came to see Kate Mulgrew. I expected it to be an evening about Katharine Hepburn. I didn't expect her to take on Katharine Hepburn."

When Mulgrew emerges in Act II as the older Hepburn to the audible gasps of the audience, David Klein, chairman of the board of Hartford Stage, said, "She silenced the entire room."

Klein and his wife, Janice, have a fond memory of a Hepburn sighting. The couple was in Fenwick in February 1985, exactly two years after they met. Act II of the play takes place in 1983. As Janice and David stood looking at the water, Janice said, "Guess who's there picking up driftwood but Katharine Hepburn."

"It was like a perfect romantic experience," she said.

Everyone at the party was buzzing about a moment in the play when the entire mantel on the fireplace crashed to the floor. Mulgrew was speaking as the elder Hepburn about time being a leveler when the mantel collapsed. But she recovered beautifully, saying, "I guess time levels other things as well."

The audience applauded, but playwright Matthew Lombardo, hovering in the back, said he had to leave to take a mind-clearing walk around the block.

"You work for five years on a play," he said. "And you just want to strangle whoever hung that mantel."

The one who did not fall down on the job - except in the last minutes of the play, when she prostrates herself on stage - was Mulgrew.

And her husband, Tim Hagan, Democratic candidate for governor of Ohio, was there to applaud her triumph.

"The second act stunned me," he said. "Looking at my wife playing this icon, I had a detachment. She truly transformed herself, and I was transfixed. Even her husband felt she looked like a different person."

"When you can bring your own husband to tears," he said, "You have a great talent."