Serendipity brings Kate Mulgrew to Pasadena. When playwright Matthew Lombardo saw her playing Captain Kathryn Janeway on "Star Trek: Voyager" he reportedly thought her "Hepburn-esque." That's the commanding Yankee Katharine Hepburn.
According to Mulgrew during a recent telephone interview, he then thought he should write a play—specifically for Mulgrew and he happened to be watching TV with a mutual friend who was willing to pass it on to Mulgrew if he did. The result was "Tea at Five," which makes it Southern California premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse on Friday. The title refers to the family tradition of having tea and conversation every evening at 5 p.m.
Mulgrew didn't have the other Kate in mind when she created Janeway—a part she stepped into at the last minute. In her clear, husky no-nonsense voice, she related, "I didn’t like Hepburn. Whether it was because I was so often compared to her, which I don’t think it was, or because I didn’t like her personality. She was too outspoken, rather caustic and harsh. I thought she was a bit of a show-off."
Although her Star Trek role was originally based on a feminist writer who passed away this year, Mulgrew didn't feel the desire to meet her when she took on the role or after. "I went in as innocent as could be. That was good for my imagination. I made Janeway into what I thought a good captain should be—human and imminently humane, passionate about science, with a love of people."
As for the other Kate, by the time Mulgrew assumed the role in the play, Hepburn was living in seclusion. Yet Mulgrew walked away from an earlier chance during an audition because she "couldn't stand [Hepburn's] politics." Now she thinks that was a good thing. She didn't have Hepburn's image burned into her mind before she came to this play.
She recalls, "When I got the script I thought it was an interesting challenge. I had already spent seven years in outer space. Playing one of the foremost icons by avoiding any artifice, that would be a challenge."
Still, she didn't particularly like Hepburn—a tricky thing when you're thinking of devoting a year or more to playing one person. Eventually, she found something "that resonated far more deeply" that she can't explain except as part of the acting process. "In the rehearsal room and the long hours in the hotel in Hartford, the long nights of solitude with her movies, interviews and the text—every piece of documentation" Mulgrew began to admire Hepburn's courage and be touched by her vulnerability. "I have grown to love her….I didn't expect that."