An alternate voyage

The Daily Targum

November 16, 2004

Best known for her seven-year role as Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager, Kate Mulgrew has returned to her theatrical roots. Mulgrew stars in a solo performance as Katherine Hepburn in Tea At Five, which opens today at the Bushnell Theatre in Hartford, Conn.

"I don't miss being on [Star Trek Voyager]," she said of the switch. "It was the hardest work I have ever done. It compensated me very nicely in many, many ways. The ultimate feeling on Voyager was one of great pride, but it doesn't have the same sense of constant joy that this kind of theatre work gives me, or surprise. And I think that kind of feeling alone is enough to sustain an actor."

That joy is exactly what has kept Mulgrew going during her three-year run of Tea At Five. The live audience provides a stimulation that can't compare with the cameras from a TV set. "Without question [my favorite part of this job is] the nightly challenge of bringing this to life," Mulgrew said. "Can I do it? Is the risk factor still there, if so, why? And that is one of the great rewards of being an actor, we have a chance to bring something to its absolute completion, fruition, whereas in most other professions it simply doesn't exist. So I feel remarkably lucky in that regard."

Written by Matthew Lombardo and directed by John Tillenger, Tea at Five is the biographical story of Katherine Hepburn's life. It follows her childhood in Hartford through her lucrative career as an actress and her complicated personal life.

"I would say that [performing in Hartford] heightens the adrenaline a little bit, raises the stakes - not so dramatically as one would suggest as if I were sensing her presence, but West Hartford is where she grew up and Fenwick is where she lived out her life," Mulgrew said. "I probably feel a kind of avid responsibility to bring it to its fullest life."

Playing the part of an actual person has different qualities than playing an entirely fictional character. In a sense, it could be considered easier because you can research the person and learn about their true personality. But it also has a certain responsibility along with it to play the person correctly. "[I find this role a challenge] always and consistently, which is part of the mystery of the person," Mulgrew said. "You would think after three years it would subside a bit, but it seems to grow with every performance." 

During its three-year run, Tea at Five has both been nominated for and won awards. Most recently, Mulgrew won best actress at the Carbonell awards in Florida. "I'm pleased," Mulgrew said. "I'm no longer your age, so awards are probably not as thrilling as they once were, but I'm very pleased, and I'm particularly pleased to have it bestowed to me for this part which I so love doing."

As the spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Association, Mulgrew has tried to involve the theatre in her efforts. "I always try to involve whatever theatre work I'm doing and get them involved in the Alzheimer's Association," Mulgrew said. She also has been involved in other ways. "There are a lot of fundraisers; there is the big gala I think in May," she said. "There's a race for the cure going on in Cleveland, and I'm involved in that, and frankly I'm quite fascinated by the whole process. Soon enough there will be a breakthrough and it will be very timely."

Aside from her theatrical performances, Mulgrew is very involved in politics, especially in this last election. A devout Democrat, Mulgrew was disappointed by the outcome of the election. "As my dear husband puts it, bloodied but not bowed. We live in a culture - a country I should say - of such polarization that we must be more unified, the Republicans, the Democrats, and I don't know how we go about that except to listen to one another," she said. "It cannot be this atmosphere of such charged opposition or nothing will work. The point is not to take umbrage anymore."

On a final note, Mulgrew has some advice for those intent on entering into the entertainment industry: "Be sure that you are committed and be sure that you are disciplined. Only one out of every 2,000 actors actually makes a living at this craft, and you must be sure so that you don't get hurt. And that's my solid advice, you have to be fearless and you have to be absolutely sure."