Tea at Five
by Matthew Lombardo
directed by and starring Cissy Conner
Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, NoHo
through May 2
Most actresses who play legendary stars have to beware of too much affectation and mimicry.
Cissy Conner is no stanger to portraying legends. Her performance as Marlene Dietrich a few years back was nothing short of stellar and brought her an Ovation nomination as Best Actress.
Now Miss Conner is essaying Kate Hepburn in Matthew Lombardo's Tea at Five at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center. Conner is such a reliably fine actress that her Hepburn , like Dietrich, becomes an exceedingly memorable turn.
In Act I, circa 1938, Conner has chosen to strip away the affectations and posturing in favor of a more toned down, earthy Katharine Hepburn. For those unfamiliar with the younger Hepburn, this is an acceptable choice. But for diehard fans, who were aware of her wildly untamed, ego-driven, often abrasive personality, this portrait needs beefing up. My suggestion to Miss Conner is to put back the mannersims and affectations, as her emotional instrument is most soundly intact as an actress and functioning very effectively as the inner Hepburn.
Act II finds Hepburn some 40+ years later, a woman in her late 70s-early 80s, now plagued with the shakes ... a more mature and wise old gal who has a keen eye for her accomplishments and her limitations. This is Conner's finest hour as an actress. She is so resoundingly outstanding here, that as I listened to her talk to her audience about Spence (Tracy) and her brother Tom, I was moved to tears, more than a few times. Conner grabs hold of her audience effortlessly and really talks to them, as if they were paying her a visit in her own living room. She is funny and touching simultaneously without ever going overboard. Young actresses should watch her work here: it is a prime example of how a good actor makes a character really tick.
With a bit of work on Act I, this Tea at Five will be another great success for Cissy Conner and a loving portrait to Kate Hepburn. As is, it's a very enjoyable evening of theatre.
4 out of 5 stars