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In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

Angela Iannone plays Katharine Hepburn in her 70s in the second act of "Tea at Five" for In Tandem Theatre. (PHOTO: Mark Frohna)

Reviving play and Katharine Hepburn is big success for In Tandem

It takes a brave actress to play Katharine Hepburn on stage. Hepburn's piquant personality was so strong, our memories of it are still vivid.

Put her in a single-actor biographical drama, and the courage curve becomes steeper. That style of theater can make an insomniac drowsy.

This leads us to "Tea at Five," the Hepburn bio play that In Tandem Theatre Company originally staged two years ago and has revived this summer. Kate Hepburn meets her match in Angela Iannone, whose stage strength, skill and confidence fits the legend darn near perfectly.

Dramatist Matthew Lombardo wrote an engaging and witty script that doesn't overstay its welcome. Two short acts and we are out the door.

The result is a briskly entertaining theatrical journey that reveals a bit of the enigmatic Hepburn while it amuses us.

Lombardo places the first act in 1938, when the young Hepburn faces an unexpected box office drought in film. A string of flops puts her Hollywood future in jeopardy and sends her snotty detractors into high gear.

We see the actress in her family's Long Island Sound home at a time she is hoping to be cast in "Gone With the Wind." Working the phone to promote herself, she is feisty but also concerned.

Forty-five years pass before we see Hepburn in Act 2. The family home had been washed away in a hurricane, and a replacement was built. Kate is in it, coping with an ankle cast and tremors.

The year is 1983, and she is 76. The fiercely private Hepburn is candid and revelatory about such highly personal matters as her brother's suicide, her six-year marriage at the start of her career, and her long relationship with the married Spencer Tracy.

Iannone impresses us in two ways. Hepburn's Act 2 physicality still suggests determination and athleticism although her body is beginning to fail her. The palsy, which we clearly see, is realistic but does not distract from her stories and personality.

In a textbook example of interior acting, Iannone possesses Hepburn's steely spirit, prickly temperament and regal independence. It was an unusual blend for a woman of her generation, and the public loved her for it.

Chris Flieller again directed "Tea at Five," which continues through Aug. 21.

Boulevard Introduces Milwaukee to a Rising Playwright

The Boulevard Theatre is opening its 26th season next week by introducing a rising young dramatist to Milwaukee. Annie Baker has been called "one of the most promising new stage talents to emerge in the past decade" by the New York Times, and her "Circle Mirror Transformation" opens next Wednesday for a run through Sept. 4.

A comedy, the play is set in an adult creative drama class at a community center in the same fictional small Vermont town Baker has placed two of her other works. Through theater games and exercises, the characters reveal their vulnerabilities and desires.

"Circle Mirror Transformation" shared off-Broadway's Obie Award for best new American play with another Baker work, "The Aliens," last year.

Several Boulevard veterans – Beth Monhollen, Michael
Weber and Jaime Jastrab – are in the cast.


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