Tea at Five
Pasadena Playhouse
Wednesday September 14, 2005
Report by Carol LaPlante

After the 2:00 pm matinee performance of Tea at Five, the Pasadena Playhouse presented a “Talk Back” question and answer period with Kate Mulgrew and Matthew Lombardo.  (There was no evening show that day.)

As some of the patrons left the theater after the performance, others moved forward (or downstairs from the balcony).  If I remember correctly, the Pasadena Playhouse has a capacity of over 500, and that matinee was very well attended with at least half the audience staying for the Q & A.  Quite a few senior citizens were in attendance (buses from several senior centers brought folks to the Playhouse).  There were also about two dozen women from the Red Hat Society wearing quite a nice variety of hats.

Ms. Lesley Brander, the Pasadena Playhouse Community Affairs Director, served as host/emcee, introducing Matt Lombardo as he came on stage … Kate had already returned to the stage after her standing ovation curtain call.  She was still in her Act Two Kate Hepburn attire.

While Kate and Matt settled into two chairs (center stage), Lesley asked the audience if they had any questions.  It seemed as though it took folks a moment or two to collect their thoughts, just enough time to formulate a question.

Lesley (who had the only microphone) repeated the questions from the audience, and clarified to whom the question was directed.  When a question was posed about when Tea at Five was written, Matt hesitated for a moment, then turned to look at Kate with a somewhat quizzical expression on his face.  To which Kate said “Don’t ask me!” 

The friendship that has developed between Kate and Matt was very, very obvious in that exchange and several others.  I loved when Kate described how Matt had approached her about playing Katharine Hepburn … “This guy arrives at my front door, with fifty calla lilies, on his knees”.  “Oh, come in for Heaven’s sake!”   Matt even teased Kate about bringing back the bathing suit for Act One.

There was a bit of a tease about where Tea at Five might next be staged … Matt again hinted about bringing Tea to London in the spring of 2006.  In a private exchange after the Q & A, he did not rule out the cities in the mid-west US that had been suggested (Chicago and Minneapolis).

The Q & A lasted for almost fifteen minutes … it was definitely not freezing in the theatre.

Many Thanks to Carol LaPlante for sharing her report!

Transcript of  "Talk Back - Q&A Session"
Pasadena Playhouse
Wednesday, September 14th, 2005 

Many Thanks to my transcriber!

Lesley Brander:  This is Matthew Lombardo, our playwright.  So who would like to start off with a question?  Yes?  All right.

Q 1:  Here's my question.  From an actress's perspective, how long do you think it was, exactly, before you felt that actress and character had really come together as one, on stage?

Lesley Brander:  I'm going to just repeat that question so everybody can hear, there's a lot of commotion going on.  All right.  The question is how long did it take for Kate, actually, to have the actress part of Kate and the Katharine Hepburn part of Kate completely come together?

Kate Mulgrew:  That's sort of a hard question to answer, sweetheart, because it's an on-going process, but…

Q 1:  Yes, I understand that…

Kate Mulgrew:  You mean then, to the point of, sort of, liquid facility… utter confidence!  My God!  Mad joy!?  Probably… probably in New York.  Started in New York. And then it got better. And it seems to be coming increasingly better.  But it's… it's always evolving and it's always changing. As she herself was. And hopefully I am too. Thank you, that's a good question.  Anybody else?

Lesley Brander:  Who else had their hand up?  Yes? 

Q 2:  (Unintelligible)

Lesley Brander:  Could you repeat that one more time?

Q 2:  How long did it take to write it, to research it and then complete the writing?

Lesley Brander:  So the entire process of writing…

Q 2:  … and changes…

Matthew Lombardo:  I started researching… I think the researching took about five years. Where I was just taking notes and…  kind of plotted how the play would unfold, knowing that the first act would be at a critical time in her life…

Kate Mulgrew:  It was over three days!

Matthew Lombardo:  I did the research for five years!  When I found out that Kate was going to finish up with Star Trek: Voyager I went back to Miami and in three days I wrote the first draft of "Tea at Five".  There have been a hundred and thirty seven drafts since then!  But it was about a five-year process. 

Lesley Brander:  Yes?

Q 3: When was the play written?

Lesley Brander:  Did everybody hear that?  The question is when was the play written.

Kate Mulgrew:  Don't look at me!!

Matthew Lombardo:  The play was written, let’s see, around March of 2001, the first draft was written. And the final draft… well there is no final draft. It continues to be written. 

Lesley Brander:  Yes?  Oh Lynn! Hey!

Q 4:  … Congratulations…(Unintelligible)

Lesley Brander:  Lynn is one of our board members. Thank you for coming, Lynn. 

Q 4:  My questions is how much of the dialogue is fact …(Unintelligible)

Kate Mulgrew:  Well… this is of course… you know this is the intriguing question, isn't it? Did Hepburn, compromise herself?  I think she did.  So when it came to statements of fact in this play I asked Mr. Lombardo for three sources of verification. And we sought them hungrily.  When we talk about Spencer Tracy and his venereal disease; we talk about Tom, we talk about his age and the hanging; we talk about Dr. Hepburn - we made sure we found at least three sources.  When we come to the rest of it, I'm not sure Hepburn herself did not want to conceal or reveal what she wanted when she wanted to.  Which is of course what makes her so complicated and so compelling. A very good question, thank you. The Red Hat ladies are leaving!

Lesley Brander:  Yes:

Q 5: (Unintelligible) … and range of your voice from the first part to the second…

Lesley Brander: Well, that's actually a really good question because it's more involved than that.  So the question is, how difficult is the range in Kate's voice from the first act to the second act.

Kate Mulgrew:  It's hard. I cannot tell a lie. Yes.  Because she was a chronic smoker.  I'll tell you a little story about Hepburn, if you want to hear it. She'd travel on tour, you know – "A Matter of Gravity", "West Side Waltz". (In Hepburn's voice)  'I will have no smoking.  No smoking permitted in my theatre, my dressing room, it's a reprehensible habit and I loathe it.'  (Regular voice) Right. Afterwards, they'd all go back to her apartment.  She liked a little whiskey at night.  She'd sit there, she'd drink her whiskey and she'd watch the clock, and the minute the hand turned midnight she lit up and she smoked.  And they said “Miss Hepburn” but she said, "Doesn't count after midnight."  But to affect that pain, I'm rubbing my vocal chords together. And it's not doing them any favors.  But for me it's absolutely crucial, because that's who she… who she was. Thank you.  Thank you for asking that. 

Lesley Brander:  Yes?

Q 6:  Miss Mulgrew, you obviously have done your research very well.  What did you like best about her and what did you like least about her?

Lesley Brander: What did she like best about Katharine Hepburn and what did she like least about Katharine Hepburn.

Kate Mulgrew: I liked her vulnerability best – and make no mistake about it, that's who she really was. That's what the camera loved, and that was the most exciting and intriguing element of Hepburn.  What I liked the least were, I think, the lies. This is conjecture on my part, but it's fair, I think after three years of playing her.  I think she settled for a lot less than she deserved. She was… she suffered early on and she never recovered. And she really thought that Spencer Tracy was good enough, and I don't agree. So I think that she sacrificed a great deal for her career. 

Lesley Brander:  Yes?

Q 7:  Did Miss Hepburn or any members of her family see the play? 

Lesley Brander:  The question is did Miss Hepburn or any members of her family see the play.

Kate Mulgrew: Yes

Matthew Lombardo:  No, they did not.  (Audience laughter) Her niece, Katharine Houghton – Houghton, Houghton – how do you – Houghton – came to see the play when it was in Hartford and did not approve of it. I think partly because she's writing her own play about Hepburn, which she wanted to star in, and we kind of beat her to the punch…but…

Kate Mulgrew:  We talked about this …they were very private…

Matthew Lombardo:  Right, they were. 

Kate Mulgrew:  I mean that really was their trademark. Fierce privacy.  And for Matthew to write this, and for me to play, and I think stirred them up in a very explosive way.  I expected a controversial reaction.  They were very kind to me, they were not so kind to Mr. Lombardo. 

Matthew Lombardo:  (Unintelligible) But let me just say that it's very difficult to write a play about a woman who is so private.  And I think a lot of …

From the audience:  Can't hear you…

Matthew Lombardo: It is very difficult to write a play about a woman who was so private about her personal life, and I think Hepburn would never be doing this – having people into her living room and tell you all her personal thoughts.  So it was difficult to write the play based on that premise.  And I think that's maybe what some of the Hepburn family had problems with. 

Q 8:  I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that the "African Queen" was Hepburn's greatest role.  Why is there no mention of this, and why is it not addressed.

Kate Mulgrew:  There used to be. He used to have every single film.  I'm not kidding.  You think this performance is strenuous!  In the beginning he had me coming out in a bathing suit!  Changing into a chiffon cocktail dress, and then enumerating every single picture I ever did, and collapsing in a coma on the stage!

Matthew Lombardo:  And that is an honest to God true story – she did it in Hartford, at the world premiere and I really want to put that back in!

Lesley Brander:  I was wondering … (unintelligible) Do you still have the bathing suit, and everything?  We're going to take like two more questions and then I actually have to let Kate leave because as you can tell, her voice is very strained.  So there was a question in the front?  Okay.

Q 9:  I was just wondering what it was that propelled you to pursue this if it was going to be such a family intrusion.

Lesley Brander:  Is that question for Matthew or for…

Q 9:  For Matthew.

Lesley Brander:  The question is… is… why Matthew pursued writing this play if there were privacy issues and turmoil surrounding it.

Matthew Lombardo:  There are two things about it.  First of all, I never wanted to write a play about Katharine Hepburn.  I also never wanted to write a one-person show.

Kate Mulgrew:  Well then why did you!? (Laughter)

Matthew Lombardo:  Because I was sitting on the bed of my good friend, Nancy Addison, who was Kate's dear friend, and we were flipping through channels and Star Trek: Voyager came on, and I saw her beautiful face, and I said, "someone has to write a play for this woman about Katharine Hepburn."  And my friend Nancy said, "Well you're a playwright you idiot, why don't you write it?"  So I did.  And that's how it came about.  I really…  I had no intention of writing a play about Hepburn, if that answers your question.

Q 9: It sure does…

Lesley Brander:  Let me…I will get to you, hold on one second, let me take this lady…

Q 10: I have two questions, but they're quite short.  First of all, Miss Mulgrew, what was it like to find out that somebody had written a play about Katharine Hepburn specifically for you? And second of all, if somebody else was going to write another play about somebody… you know… some bigger… whoever it was, for you to play, who would you like it to be?

Lesley Brander:  The question is how does it feel to have a play written specifically for Kate about Katharine Hepburn, and if another play was going to be written for her, who would she like it to be about.

Kate Mulgrew: Well you can imagine that it was very flattering. Extremely daunting.  I didn't really like Katharine Hepburn. You know.  For years I had a sort of natural antipathy towards her.  This guy arrives at my front door - with fifty calla lilies – on his knees.  I said, "Oh come in, for heaven sake!"  I loved the construct of the play.  I loved the idea. And frankly, between you and me, I think she would have liked the idea. So it was charming.  And it was a tribute, and it was the right kind of tribute to this extraordinary woman that this culture will never, ever cease to admire and love. And your other question was who else would I like to play?  Eleanora Duse. (audience is quiet) This did not get the response I would like!

Q 11:  I was wondering are you going to take the production to other cities?

Kate Mulgrew:  Oh my God!  It must end!!

Lesley Brander:  The question is, is the production going to other cities.

Kate Mulgrew:  It never ends.  It doesn't.

Matthew Lombardo:  You know, every time we do a production, we get five or six more offers from other cities and it just continues to… people want to see the play.  And…

Kate Mulgrew:  And there are culprits in the front row.

Matthew Lombardo:  Hey, how are you?

From the audience:  Good. 

Kate Mulgrew:  Some of the ladies in the front are responsible for getting this play… (unintelligible)

Lesley Brander:  How many times have you guys seen it now?

From the audience:  Ah… don't ask.

Lesley Brander:  How many times have you guys seen the play?

From the audience (1):  I've seen it sixty.

Lesley Brander: Sixty. Sixty times!

From the audience (2):  I'm only up to about twenty-five, though.

Lesley Brander:  Twenty-five.  Eighty-five combined.

From the audience (2):  Yup.

Matthew Lombardo:  So you all have a lot of catching up to do!  But it looks like the next place that we're going to go is London, in the West End. 

Kate Mulgrew:  Yes.  That lady over there.

Lesley Brander:  Yes.

Q 12:  Hi there.  First of all, I would like to thank you, the playwright, for giving those of us who really know very little about her and see that… that hard shell that she sometimes presented, or oftentimes presented.  Seeing a very different side of her. So I would like to thank you for that. And you answered my question, because you embody her – certainly of what we know of her – so beautifully, it's almost like you're channeling her.  And I was going to ask you what you thought she would think. But you've already said that, and I agree with you completely – I think she would love what you're doing. 

Lesley Brander:  Thank you – we appreciate that.  The Pasadena Playhouse appreciates that.  We'll take one more – thank you.

Q 13:  (Unintelligible)  … I just want to tell you that I have loved you since Mary Ryan –and this is an absolute dream, that I'm able to see you…

Kate Mulgrew:  Thank you.

Lesley Brander:  A Ryan's Hope fan…

Kate Mulgrew:  I just want to thank you in turn, because this particular piece is all about – the partnership with the audience. And you were a fabulous audience today – your wonderful faces and everything that you give me.  I'm very grateful.  Thank you very much. 

Lesley Brander:  Thank you all for coming – we really appreciate it.

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