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Legendary Katharine Hepburn revisited

By Fran Sikorski, Hersam Acorn


Watching Noel Desiato, directed by Jane Farnol with Joseph Russo, perform at TheatreWorks New Milford in Tea at Five, an intimate and compelling one-woman play about the life of Katharine Hepburn, is a mesmerizing experience. The actress had a film and stage career for more than 60 years, winning four Academy Awards, more than any other actor in Oscar history, for Morning Glory (1934); Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1968); The Lion in the Winter (1969); and On Golden Pond (1982).

Playwright Matthew Lombardo has used Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography, Me, as the source for the play and succeeds in humanizing a true legend in two acts, beginning in 1938 and continuing in 1983 when she was recovering from injuries suffered in an auto accident. Noel Desiato captures every nuance of the actress through the years, aging appropriately in an amazing transformation.

The play takes place at Fenwick, the Hepburn family summer home in Old Saybrook. The first act begins as Miss Hepburn is anxiously hoping for a phone call informing her she has been selected to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. She has had a series of flops and is hoping this choice role will put her back on top and eliminate her reputation as “box office poison.”

When the role of Scarlett O’Hara is given to Vivien Leigh, we see a different Hepburn, not the usual feisty one. During successive “teas” we learn about this incredible woman and her family as she climbs the ladder back to cinema success. Also revealed is her long-time romance with actor Spencer Tracy, who refused to divorce his wife to marry her.

During each scene Noel Desiato is brilliant as Katharine Hepburn, not impersonating her, but recreating a legendary figure as guided by the playwright’s words, so beautifully put together, and abetted by hair and makeup design by Mr. Russo.

Set and sound design are also by Mr. Russo; set dressing by Bill Hughes; and lighting and sound execution by Lainey Ford.

An audience favorite, Noel Desiato has appeared at TheatreWorks in the title role of Medea, and in Laramie Project, Holiday Memories and Love Letters. She is a graduate of the Stella Adler Conservatory and was a member of the Potters Field Theatre Company.

Katharine Hepburn fans will adore Tea at Five. Others will too and will become fans after seeing Noel Desiato thoughtfully recreate the life of the remarkable film icon. Hopefully we will see more of her at TheaterWorks.

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