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Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009

A Fine Spot of ‘Tea at Five’

Angela Iannone runs the gamut

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In Tandem Theatre opened its 12th season in fine form this weekend with Tea at Five, a revealing look at legendary film actress Katharine Hepburn. Set in her family home in Fenwick, Conn., the two-act, one-woman play captures Hepburn first on a stormy night in 1938, where the struggling actress is anxiously awaiting word on whether she has landed the coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara, and again in the 1980s, fiery as ever, despite nearly half a century of personal and professional tumult.

The difficulty in depicting such a well-known individual is one of inclusion. Hepburn’s storied career provided enough material for several books, and where is a playwright to start? The script, by Matthew Lombardo, keeps things plausible and interesting. Pivoting on several crucial events in the actress’ life, the script transcends a simple, sequential recap of salient dates and happenings.

Wonderfully cast as Hepburn is Angela Iannone, well known to Milwaukee audiences for her versatile body of work. Iannone positively nails the role, from Hepburn’s singular vocal style to the essential tremor that affected the actress in her later years. No suspension of disbelief is required here: Iannone’s onstage channeling makes us forget we’re in a renovated church basement and invites us into Hepburn’s parlor for two very intimate chats.

And what conversations! Iannone shows us a young Hepburn consumed by doubt, displaying the rebelliousness that deservedly or not earned her a reputation for being difficult to work with. Interrupted by phone calls that bring only bad news, Hepburn frets as the sound of thunder gradually increases, a manifestation of both a very real squall and a harbinger of the storms that would define her roles and relationships. Those relationships, both familial and romantic, are revealed in detail in the second act, which sees the incorrigible, still-optimistic actress with fewer and fewer bon amis, a victim perhaps of her own reputation and longevity.

Tea at Five continues through Oct. 25 at In Tandem Theatre’s Tenth Street Theatre.

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