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‘Tea at Five’ Offers Look at the Iconic Katharine Hepburn
Thursday, July 21, 2022


Katharine Hepburn had already won the first of four Oscars by the time she turned 31 in September 1938. But she had just been labeled “box office poison” after several films flopped.

Thus sets the stage for a retrospective look back as she contemplates her childhood in Hartford, Conn., her start in show business and more.

And audience members will likely learn more than they ever knew about one of Hollywood’s iconic figures when they see “Tea at Five.”

The play will start at 8 p.m. Saturday through Wednesday, July 23-27 in the intimate Bailey Studio at the Argyros Center for the Performing Arts in Ketchum. Tickets are $35, available at

The one-woman play written by Matthew Lombardo tells stories of Hepburn gathered from her book “Me: Stories of My Life.” It includes a story of a brother who died, her heart-breaking romance with Spencer Tracy and her refusal to watch the ground-breaking “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

The play, presented by Ketchum's long-running Royal Larkspur Players, will feature two actors. Los Angeles -based Karlie Blair plays the young Hepburn. New York actor Noa Graham pays the older Katharine Hepburn, who reflects on her career following a traumatic car accident in the second act, which takes place 45 years after the first act.

Graham said she has been a fan of Hepburn ever since she watched classic movies on TV after school.

“I even sometimes set my alarm to wake me in the middle of night to watch them,” she said.

Hepburn fascinated me—and I think a lot of people—because she was such a maverick. Even as a kid, I could intuit that her characters and their stories had something to do with who she was, her essence. In my view, the most successful of her films didn’t try to corral her into dominant ideas of what women should be but celebrated her eccentricity and independence. The ones that fall flat for me made her characters submissive and less independent than she was.

“Growing up, like anybody, I was trying to make sense of my gender role, my career options, my gifts—and I was always looking for love stories that felt like they made room for me. Why am I identifying with this character? What does she want out of life? What does this romance mean for me and the kinds of romantic love I might find as an adult? I loved movies that filled me with a sense of possibility, fun, and true partnership. ‘Holiday’ is my favorite, partly, for that reason. Young people challenging the gender binary will find in Hepburn a role model, with gender bending films like ‘Sylvia Scarlet’ and ‘Christopher Strong.’’

One can hear echoes of Hepburn’s films a she tells her stories, Graham said. But familiarity is not necessary to enjoy watching her try to derive meaning from her life. Graham said she didn’t know about Hepburn’s bother’s suicide, which is the fulcrum of the play. Nor had she realized Hepburn’s respect or Spencer Tracy and the challenges she faced as someone who carred for him over 27 year.

“And I learned that her relationships with women were much more central than she would have you believe as written here.”

Graham has spent a lot of time in Connecticut, which has afforded her the opportunity to learn about Hepburn’s family life, her urologist father and suffragette mother’s work educating the public about venereal disease and the way in which living there instead of Hollywood kept her grounded. She visited the arts center museum known as The Kate in Fenwick and she said she wished it had occurred to her to take a winter swim in Long Island Sound because that’s what Kate would have done.

“Humor is a big part of her story because she was funny!" she said. "She could be cutting, playful, bossy and flirtatious--and Matthew Lombardo’s play taps into all these qualities. As an artist, she had great range. but she certainly created stand-out performances in comedies, especially in the 1930s. I hope people unfamiliar with her later work will check out dramatic classics like The Glass MenagerieLong Day’s Journey Into Night, and The Lion in Winter where, opposite Peter O’Toole, she’s nimble in veering from drama to comedy in a script that accommodates plenty of both.”

Graham said “Tea for Five” is about someone who lived a life of mythic proportions and who contributed actively to that myth making her entire life.

“What compromises did she make? What is she not telling us? The audience will, I hope, reflect on whether she’s a reliable narrator—there are conflicting versions of the stories she tells,” she said. “This Kate omits, represses and fabulizes a lot—but she spins a good yarn and lays bare her soul at times, and I hope the audience will leave feeling entertained, full of feeling for her, and eager to revisit her films or discover ones they haven’t seen.” 




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