The Washington Post
Backstage column
By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 18, 2005

All About Kate
Three years before Cate Blanchett sauntered across movie screens as a frisky young Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator," Kate Mulgrew was donning the baggy pantsuits favored by that iconic star in "Tea at Five," a one-character play by Matthew Lombardo. She'll play the part at Baltimore's Hippodrome through Sunday.

Mulgrew is most widely known for her seven-year stint as Capt. Kathryn Janeway on "Star Trek: Voyager" and for a run on the daytime drama "Ryan's Hope." Early in her career, she studied with acting teacher Stella Adler and took to the stage on Broadway in Peter Shaffer's "Black Comedy" and in Shakespeare and Ibsen.

When "Tea at Five" was first offered to her, Mulgrew confesses, she balked a bit because she had "a real antipathy" toward Hepburn dating to Mulgrew's first days onstage, when people compared her to Hepburn. To an actress trying to make her own way, it rankled.

"I questioned a lot of things about her, all of which were dispelled in the rehearsal process. I fell in love," Mulgrew says. She discovered a woman of "courage and behind that courage an intense vulnerability."

Mulgrew cites the suicide of Hepburn's brother Tom when she was 14, and her parents' refusal to discuss it or the disturbing pattern of suicides in their extended family. "She was simply too young to assimilate that grief," Mulgrew says. "The only way she survived it was to become an actress, and not just an actress, but a star, and not just a star, but an icon . . . to prove herself to her parents, without becoming like them."

One can almost hear Hepburn exclaiming "Bunk!" -- and Mulgrew concedes that such a psychoanalytic approach would not have washed with her. "I'd say that she was inherently remarkably intelligent, but she was not an examined person. I think she probably would have disdained that particular approach."

Mulgrew bristles at any hint that her performance is an impersonation. "It's exactly what I do not want to do, that I had absolutely no intention of doing. Every drag queen from here to Tijuana does it better than I do . . . there has to be realization of the character."