We were lucky enough to spend the weekend of February 15 to 18, 2002 in Hartford Connecticut, where we attended a fund raising event for Tim Hagan, who is running for Governor of Ohio and a performance of Matthew Lombardo's new play, "Tea at Five" starring Kate Mulgrew.
The play, in two acts, is based upon the life and career of Connecticut native Katharine Hepburn.
Act one takes place in 1938, when the 31 year old Hepburn has retreated to her family home, Fenwick after being labelled 'box office poison' by the Motion Picture Distributors of America. She has had seven 'flops' in a row, her relationships - with family, friends and lovers are shaky or non-existent and she is alone with her thoughts - and her reflections on her life to date. Mulgrew's Hepburn is utterly believable. She has the mannerisms, voice, inflections and movements of the actress down pat. If you have seen any of the early Hepburn films you will be amazed at the resemblance. Some of the 'throw away' lines and gestures are uncanny.
Hepburn's monologue is in turns funny, moving, bitter and biting, and tribute should be paid to Matthew Lombardo, who has done an admirable job of cobbling together Hepburn quotes, anecdotes and history in a way to make the evening's drama move forcefully through the life of a fascinating woman.
Mulgrew owns the stage - she strides, poses, lounges, and lunges - just as Hepburn did. The director has used almost every inch of the stage and rightly so - Hepburn's caged animal/ feline movements are very much part of this portrayal.
Act two takes place almost fifty years later. Hepburn has been in a car accident and broken her ankle. She has other health issues as well, and when Mulgrew, as the older Hepburn turns around for the first time the entire audience gasps. This is the Hepburn with whom most of us are familiar and the resemblance is almost eerie. When Mulgrew speaks, the voice is that of Ethel Thayer (On Golden Pond), and Eleanor of Aquitaine (The Lion in Winter). The familiar mannerisms, the shake of the head, the querulous voice - all are portrayed perfectly.
Hepburn's reminiscences here are more moving - her description of her brother's death and the reaction to it by her parents are perhaps the heart of the play - this traumatic incident defined her life. She speaks of her relationship with her beloved Spencer Tracy - and I must admit that although she herself says she can't understand why she stayed with him - an abusive alcoholic who would not divorce his wife - I felt that more of an explanation would have been helpful. But Mulgrew's eloquent shrug of the shoulders is one of the highlights of that particular scene. As far as I was concerned, at that moment I was watching Katharine Hepburn.
If you haven't done so already we suggest that you run, don't walk, to see "Tea at Five" at Hartford Stage.
The cocktail party on Friday evening was great fun. Kate and Tim arrived at around 10:30, to a round of applause. More than a few people there had seen the play, and the buzz was very positive.
The Hagan family was very well represented. We found out that 13 of the 14 Hagan siblings were planning to attend "Tea at Five" the following evening, and most were present at the party. They are very warm and friendly and we were made to feel quite welcome.
Tim made a brief informal speech. He thanked his brother Bill for organizing the event and everyone for coming from all over. He mentioned how difficult the fundraising aspect of a political race is and that Governor Taft has about 6 million dollars in his accounts at the moment whilst Hagan has less than $150,000. He joked that he was using his wife to raise funds and Kate, who was standing behind him at the time interrupted at that point - shouting "And I love it" to much laughter and applause.
Kate and Tim circulated freely and easily throughout the evening, and managed to speak with almost everyone in attendance.
We were able to speak with both Kate and Tim, and were delighted when each of them mentioned how pleased they were with the TotallyKate website - Kate called it elegant, and mentioned that she was amazed at the amount of information it contained. We had a wonderful time, and want to extend our best to both of them - Kate in "Tea at Five" and Tim in the gubernatorial race.