Computer. Tea, Earl Grey, Hot, at 0500.

Last night, we had tickets to see Kate Mulgrew in Tea at Five at the Pasadena Playhouse. Unfortunately, even though Kate’s website doesn’t indicate it, she is not doing Saturday evening performances. We found out about this Wednesday afternoon (as subscribers), but couldn’t change to another performance with her. Evidently, Kate pulled the change on the box office after the play opened, and we’ve never had an official explanation.

So, we got her talented understaudy, Paula Ewin (click here for an image of her with Kate), who evidently has been understudying Janeway Mulgrew for a long time. Ewin is a founding member of the 29th Street Rep, and recently appeared as Nora in Bold Girls and as Ruthie in High Priest of California She is producer and co-director of Look Here! A Portrait of Sylvia Sleigh. Guess what? We didn’t even miss the good captain.

For those unfamiliar with the play (which was written by Matthew Lombardo), it tells the story of an actress, a Miss Katherine Hepburn, a film actress who, when we meet here, has just come off a string of seven flops (including Break of Hearts (1935), Sylvia Scarlett (1935), Mary of Scotland (1936), Quality Street (1937) and Bringing Up Baby (1938)). She’s back at home recovering, and hoping for her next role as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (yes, she was a leading candidate for the role). The first act concerns this low time of her life, when she was dealing with career failure, a label as “box office poison”, a disasterous run in The Lake on Broadway (in 1934) where she was panned by critics and deserted by her audience. The act ends with her being offered a role on Broadway in The Philadelphia Story (which she would later buy to make into a movie).

The second act takes place in 1983, when Kate is at home with a broken ankle. She provides some stories about her relationship with “Spence“, and tells the story of how she found the body of her brother Tom after he died attempting a rope trick at the age of 15. This latter incident completely changed her life. She also relates how she played Coco Chanel on Broadway, and had a run-in with Stephen Sondheim. At the end of the act, she finally agrees to do some project with Warren Beatty. This was the film Love Affair made in 1994, her last film appearance. This is odd to be discussing in 1983, as she did a number of TV movies post 1983, including the well received Mrs. Delafield Wants To Marry in 1986.

We found the production to be very good, and it has gotten good reviews elsewhere. Yet most of the reviews (Los Angeles Times, Variety, Orange County Register) concentrate more on Mulgrew’s performance (OCRegister: “Starfleet Capt. Janeway was Katharine Hepburn in a maroon uniform.”). They seem to uniformally feel the script was shallow (LA Times: “Playwright Lombardo fudges the timing of incidents, puts words in other people’s mouths and distorts who was present at certain events. That’s bad enough. But what’s truly disappointing is that “Tea at Five” is more outline than play — a mere recitation of names and incidents, with little inherent drama.”)

I think they are right. The story itself is shallow. I can’t speak to the inaccuracies, but Miss Hepburn was a recluse about her private life, so the shallowness is understandable. Still, we enjoyed it.

Next up on the theatre schedule: Oliver! at the Cabrillo Music Theatre, the first production of the 2005-2006 season (the other productions are Forever Plaid and The Music Man (which replaced the previously announced Seussical (drat!). This will be in early November, to be followed by Open Window at the Pasadena Playhouse, a joint production with Deaf West. We’re also planning to get tickets for Pump Boys and Dinettes at the San Fernando Valley Playhouse, and I’ve toyed with the idea of getting tickets to The Grand Tour at The Colony Theatre in Burbank.

[Crossposted to cahwyguy and socal_theatre]

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