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Tea at Five Now Served at the Pasadena Playhouse

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Okay, it's true confessions time. We've been waiting for Tea at Five, the one-woman play about the life of Katharine Hepburn, to hit the west coast for over two years now. We took our seat in the lovely and historic Pasadena Playhouse opening night, practically biting our nails in nervous anticipation. After all, it seems to take a Kate (or a Cate) to play the Great Kate, and we were ready to see Mulgrew tread the boards in shoes that could be too big to step in to. Tea at Five takes place at Fenwick, the Hepburn family's second home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, the first act one stormy eve in 1938, and the second act in 1983. The two acts are almost as disparate as the decades they represent, and stikingly so. Mulgrew bears a fair resemblance to Hepburn the younger; what she lacks in physical proximity (she's shorter and more voluptuous, certainly) she tries to make up with prancing and posing. While it's in an effort to capture the boundless energy and athleticism of the outspoken star, at times it is distracting and a tad bit far-fetched. Act one plays like a frantic highlight reel of Hepburn's trials and tribulations: she's considered "box office poison" after a series of flops, she's not in the running to play Scarlett O'Hara, her brother Dick has penned an inflammatory play, she's turned down a Mr. Hughes' proposal, and there's a hurricane a-comin'. Granted, all of these moments are absolutely historically accurate (though perhaps not on the table all in the same day), but many of the more so-called intimate insights are full of invention and error. The fault lies not in Mulgrew's bold and daring performance, but in Matthew Lombardo's try-hard script; surely if his aim was to uncover the secret thoughts of "Katharine of Arrogance" he would have studied the same material that any devoted fan would have. Certainly the objections of Hepburn's extended family did not gain him access into any top-secret material, and some of his liberties, such as the convoluted tale of her first lover Luddy, border on offensive. It seems Lombardo put the 1993 All About Me videotape on a loop and copied down Kate's witticisms as fast as he could type--the cleverest lines were all written or said by Hepburn herself.