Tea at Five – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Katharine Hepburn was a Hollywood leading lady for over six decades, the winner of four Academy Awards, a true Connecticut daughter, who was named in 1999 the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema by the American Film Institute. Kate died in 2003 at her home in Fenwick, a part of Old Saybrook, at the venerable age of 96. You have the unique opportunity to make her acquaintance over a cup of tea courtesy of the remarkable acting talents of Kelly Boucher and the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre of Berlin weekends until September 23.

Thanks to Matthew Lombardo’s revealing comedy “Tea at Five,” we are privileged to meet Ms. Hepburn at two distinct stages of her life, the first when she is mentally reviewing her career to date and actively lobbying to get the role of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind,” and fifty years later when she is contemplating her life and her choices, now a victim of Parkinson’s disease.

Kelly Boucher becomes this venerable actress, who is aggressive, self-assured, strong willed, an athlete, a non conformist, independent, unconventional and eccentric, with a distinctive patrician voice. Boucher shares intimate details of Kate’s life, in a progressive and structured family that kept secrets, her early drive and ambition to be a movie actress, her many missteps along the way, and the plays and movies and even television roles she accepted.

She happily admits that the press was not fond of her or her of it, and she even earned the title Katherine of Arrogance. When she had six or seven flops in a row, she also earned the appellate “box office poison.” Her relationships with many Hollywood big wigs were often contentious and she was known to bully and boss to get her way. A creature of habit, she often sought the comfort of her family when things went awry, and she enjoyed a cup of tea every day at five o’clock. The audience is privileged to be in her company for that tradition.

Her father had a tremendous influence on Kate, one she reveals in difficult confessions. Tom, her older brother, was her protector and she terms it “Paradise” when she was home in Fenwick with him. His death had a tremendous influence on her life. As she sips tea, she sprinkles her stories with tales of the 1938 hurricane that washed her home away, her dalliance with such suitors as Howard Hughes, her relationship with her German acting teacher, her abhorrence of calla lilies, her brief marriage and her dislike of the institution and her conflicts with leading stars like John Barrymore.

In the second act, we meet a Katharine who has suffered many disappointments and is now battling Parkinson’s. She has just suffered a car accident and has a broken ankle. Warren Beatty is actively pursuing her to end her retirement and return to the screen and he has mistakenly sent her a bouquet of calla lilies to woo her. This is a frail and fragile queen who is still in charge of her reign. Her attention to detail is still a primary key to her success in life. Even now she is finally ready to reveal her private relationship with Spencer Tracy, one she kept secret for more than twenty five years.

Through all her trials and triumphs, she freely admits that work has always been her salvation and her priority. After Tracy’s death, she returned to acting to survive. Even at the finale, she was always seeking her happy ending. For tickets ($30), call the CT Cabaret Theatre, 31-33 Webster Square Road, Berlin at 860-829-1248 or online at www.ctcabaret.com. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with doors opening at 7:15 p.m. Remember to bring goodies to share at your table or plan to buy desserts and drinks on site. Now is the time to sign up for the cabaret’s next season, its twentieth anniversary.