East Valley Tribune

Theater: Mulgrewís ĎTeaí aims at Hepburnís grace

By Chris Page, Tribune

October 5, 2004 

Actress Kate Mulgrew is largely known for her seven years at the helm of "Star Trek: Voyager," starring as Kathryn Janeway, the first female captain in a "Star Trek" series.

But these days ó three years since disembarking from "Voyager" ó sheís earning accolades for something different: Channeling the first lady of cinema.

Mulgrew, 49, is performing Matthew Lombardoís "Tea at Five," a one-woman biography of Katharine Hepburn that opened in 2002 and went off-Broadway to rave reviews the following year.

In the show, Mulgrew steps into the life of Hepburn first at age 31 (when she was considered "box office poison") and, in the second act, some 45 years later, after four Oscars and a love affair with Spencer Tracy.

Mulgrew is coming back to "Tea at Five" after an eight month break ó which included a short run of the play "The Royal Family" in Los Angeles ó for a slate of tour dates across the country that takes her through May 2005.

Originally, she was to start the tour in Seattle in September, but she was forced to cancel when her husband, Tim Hagan, had a heart attack. Now, the tour will begin tonight in the Valley, with a five-day stint at the Orpheum Theatre, presented by Theater League.

Q: Letís start at the end of "Voyager." Youíve said there was a conscious decision post-Janeway to break the potential stigma of playing a "Trek" character. You turned to the theater.

A: I donít consider it a stigma, no, but there was a conscious decision to move to New York and regenerate my life in the theater, which I always loved. Seven years of television is a lot. I know other people run longer, but for me, it was more than significant to remind me of who I am as an actress.

Q: Talk to me about deciding to tour "Tea at Five."

A: I guess demand would be too extravagant a term, but there seems to be a desire in the provinces, if you will, to see it, having heard about it. Itís something Iíve never done, Iíve never toured a play ó much less a one person play ó but itís a challenge Iíd like to take.

Q: You did "Tea at Five" for two years, then did "The Royal Family" in Los Angeles, then took some time off before taking on this tour. What did you do during that time off?

A: Iíve had a lot of sorrow. My father died, my mother got Alzheimerís, my husband had a heart attack. Thatís where I am right now, taking care of my husband. Heís doing fine.

Q: In the period between starting "Tea at Five" to now, Katharine Hepburn has died. How do you approach the piece now that sheís gone?

A: Probably with even greater integrity. I want so much to reveal to audiences what makes her tick. Iíve worked hard at that, and since her death, Iíve been reaffirmed in my notions of her vulnerability in life.

Q: How did you prepare for the show?

A: I read everything I could get my hands on.

Q: And how did that change what you saw in her?

A: It changed a certain hardness that I felt toward her. I always felt she was a little too harsh, and I didnít find it attractive. But in the research, I understood it, and that her vulnerability shaped her life. When people are badly hurt when they are young, they become determined to create something of themselves.

Q: How long are you committed to the show and touring?

A: I think weíre hoping for something long-term but loose enough to allow me to pursue other endeavors. The next three years, I imagine. But there are so many things I get to do in between; itís not like I suffer in the other work. And letís be honest, itís seldom such a good piece comes along.

Q: And the "Voyager" fans? Have they followed you to "Tea," that transition from TV to stage?

A: The fans love "Tea at Five." God bless them. They alone are responsible for the success of this tour. I donít think they were horribly impressed with "The Royal Family." They love iconography, that which is exalted, that which is terribly unique.

Q: Which is Katharine Hepburn to a T. In all your research and performing, what lessons have you picked up from her, lessons for your career?

A: I wish that I had been more fearless. That was her trump card. But, of course, I didnít get all those properties. I think you just have to play your hand with as much grace and courage and grit as you can. But I would emphasize grace.