At first, Katharine Hepburn and Kate Mulgrew don't seem to have much in common as actors. But think of the clenched jaw and the razor sharp diction of both women —not to mention the array of strong women they've played — and you'll perhaps understand why the "Star Trek: Voyager" star is playing the famed film legend in Tea at Five. The Matthew Lombardo play begins performances Feb. 7 at Hartford Stage for a run through March 10. John Tillinger, that roving director of the Northeast (Williamstown Theatre Festival, Long Wharf Theatre), will helm the work.
Tea at Five finds Hepburn — who is a longtime Connecticut resident — at her home in Old Saybrook. The first act takes place in 1938, a brief dip in Hepburn's career when a series of film flops got her branded "box office poison." She would soon rebound with "The Philadelphia Story," in which she starred on Broadway before buying up the film rights. In this section of the play, the actress reflects on her patrician, privileged upbringing, no doubt touching on her devotion to her father and her vaunted athletic prowess.
The second act speeds ahead 45 years to 1983. Here, recuperating from an car accident, she looks back on her storied career and famed romance with fellow (and married) actor Spencer Tracy.
"I've often been likened to her," Mulgrew told Playbill On-Line. Lombardo recalled being at a friend's house about five years ago, and marveling at Mulgrew's Hepburnesque qualities. "It was at that point that I decided to write the play, inspired by Kate," Lombardo says. It is a tailor-made star piece, written specifically for Mulgrew. "The play would not have been written without Kate," Lombardo says. "Kate is astonishing in the role. I am utterly in awe—just to watch her work, create this character from the words on the page."
When asked what drew her to Lombardo's work, Mulgrew replied, "The words!... All one's life one hears about this woman. And now we have this play, using the conceit of this one woman show— the youthful, embattled Hepburn versus the older Hepburn." Mulgrew has appeared on Broadway in Black Comedy and in Central Park in Titus Andronicus, but she is far better known as the strong jawed Captain Janeway, who spends most of her time piloting "Star Trek: Voyager." The first "Voyager" motion picture, titled "Star Trek: Nemesis," was recently filmed.
Tillinger has directed nearly everywhere. His credits feature Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional work. Most recently, he staged Judgment at Nuremburg on Broadway and Buffalo Gal at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. He will repeat his work on the latter at Buffalo's Studio Arena Theatre this spring.
Tickets are $22-$60. Call (860) 527-5151.
—By Robert Simonson
and David Greven