"Tea at Five": Luck Be a Lady

Faye Dunaway in "Tea at Five"
(photo: Nile Scott Studios)

 “Before I tell you anything about myself, I would like to tell you, or at least identify for you, the        world into which I was born. My background. I mean of course my mother - my father. My two parents.
Mother died when I was forty-odd.
Dad died when I was fifty-odd. Thus I had them as my...Well, they were always for over forty years- there. They were mine.
From where I stood:
Dad at the left of the fireplace.
Mother at the right of the fireplace.
Tea every day at five.
They were the world into which I was born.
My background.”

So begins the autobiography by Katharine Hepburn “Me: Stories of My Life”, which was the basis for a 2002 one-woman play, a monologue, entitled Tea at Five. In its revised shorter form by playwright Matthew Lombardo, now being presented at the Huntington Theatre, it's a more focused piece that shows what happens when one force of nature inhabits the role of another.

Faye Dunaway in "Tea at Five"
(photo: Nile Scott Studios)

That would be Faye Dunaway, now commanding the stage as the celebrated actress when she was 76. The earlier two-act version portrayed Hepburn's Fenwick Estate in Old Saybrook, Connecticut; Act I (September 1938) dwelt on her childhood in Hartford, education and start in show business; and Act II (February 1983) dealt with her recovering from a car crash, and reflected upon her career and “heart-breaking” romance with Spencer Tracy. It was produced by Hartford Stage, American Repertory Theatre, and the Shubert in Boston, among others, by several leading actresses and one leading actor in drag, Charles Busch (that would've been fun to see). Now Dunaway conveys the memorable lucky lady in 1983, without resorting to cheap impersonations, in what can certainly be viewed as a tour de force, a spot-on recreation of one star by another. She has received many accolades over her long career, honored with an Academy Award, three Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards and an Emmy. Her filmography alone covers a wide and deep range of roles from her breakout performance in Bonnie and Clyde to The Thomas Crown Affair, Mommie Dearest and of course Network.

As a biographer, Hepburn made an excellent actress. Her writing style, or lack thereof, is staccato and blunt, but becomes a more complex treatment in the hands of Lombardo. As cleverly Directed by John Tillinger, with simple Set Design by Scott Pask, Lighting Design by Kevin Adams, Costume Design by Jane Greenwood, and Sound Design by John Gromada, it's an engrossing and enjoyable ride. And, yes, there are even calla lilies, but that famous oft caricatured line is wisely unspoken.

Faye Dunaway in "Tea at Five"
(photo: Neil Scott Studios)

Hepburn ends her autobiography thus: “Yes, I was lucky I had people. Memories- all there- Oh, thank you. Yes, lucky!” The same could be said for another formidable talent by the name of Faye Dunaway. Earlier in her book, Hepburn also declaimed: “Courage- that's what you have to have to come out on top”. On this scale as well, Dunaway is at the top of her game and not afraid to show it. It amounts to a master class in performing.

By all means, make room in your schedule for Tea at Five, now extended though July 14th.

No comments:

Post a Comment