MULGREW IS GREAT AS KATE
By DONALD LYONS
March 10, 2003
'TEA at Five," by Matthew Lombardo, is the latest instance of that essentially cheesy genre, the celeb looking back on life and career.
This time it's Katharine Hepburn, who's still alive at 94 but whose reaction to this show is unknown.
She is being imitated by TV actress Kate Mulgrew at two points in her life - in 1938 and 1983. Both acts, directed by John Tillinger, take place at Hepburn's parents' summer home in Connecticut.
The best thing about this one-woman play is Mulgrew. She doesn't particularly resemble Hepburn - rather, she recalls '40s bombshell Ella Raines - but she echoes her with amazing accuracy, both vocally and kinetically.
Mulgrew gets that exaggerated New England accent, which sounds the notes of arrogance and later humility; she can encapsulate the whole Kate scale in one phrase, one word, one vowel.
And she's equally expressive in Hepburn's movement - liberated, beautiful, exhilarating.
Would that Lombardo had written a play for Mulgrew. Instead, the 1938 act finds Hepburn in retreat, her movie career suffering from seven flops and the hostility of Louella Parsons.
The 1983 section sees her reflecting on the bitterness of her early years (her brother's suicide, her father's cold unkindness) and her middle years (the sour alcoholism of beloved Spencer Tracy).
The play ends with Hepburn calling Warren Beatty to accept a role in his awful "Love Affair" - one of her worst decisions presented as a triumph.
Mulgrew yes; "Tea at Five" no.
TEA AT FIVE
At the Promenade Theatre, Broadway at 76th Street. Call Tele-Charge (212) 239-6200.
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