A star turn performance and exquisite production values make “Tea at Five” a sure-fire hit at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank.
Stephanie Zimbalist, known for her 94-episode run as Laura Holt on the “Remington Steele” television series, brings to life legendary Oscar-winner Katharine Hepburn with an uncanny air in this single actor bio-play.
Of course the physical likeness and Hepburn’s trademark vocal quality and inflections are on display, but Zimbalist’s power lies in her ability to fully inhabit Hepburn’s devil-may-care personality.
Playwright Matthew Lombardo’s smart and engaging script takes us from 1938 as Hepburn awaits word on the final casting selection for the role of Scarlett O’Hara to 1983 where we witness the sunset of her health and career.
Along the way, Lombardo treats us to a variety of incidents, both familiar and heretofore unknown, from Hepburn’s life.
Her family, her loves, her heartaches, her hits, her flops—it’s a treasure trove of insight to a woman who lived life on her own terms regardless of society’s judgments.
The remarkable thing about Lombardo’s script is that, unlike so many other biographically based pieces, he has judiciously cherry-picked his tales rather than try to include every last tidbit of his subject matter’s life.
This allows Zimbalist to take her time and nurture each moment rather than falling prey to the “everything but the kitchen sink” syndrome so often seen in one-person productions.
Perhaps most intriguing are the stories of her early work as a Broadway understudy and the heart-wrenching childhood history concerning her older brother, Tom.
Naturally, Lombardo’s script doesn’t leave out her renowned love affair with Spencer Tracy.
And yet, things might still have gone awry were it not for the expert guidance of director Jenny Sullivan.
Sullivan and Zimbalist clearly possess a kindred spirit having worked together on no less than 12previous productions.
The nuances their theatrical partnership brings to this piece are remarkable as Sullivan moves Zimbalist around the Connecticut home’s living room so beautifully rendered by scenic designer Neil Prince.
Likewise, lighting designer J. Kent Inasy does a yeoman’s job illuminating the numerous locations in Prince’s set where Zimbalist sits, reclines and even perches as she regales us with her anecdotes.
Marcy Froehlich’s costuming handsomely capitalizes on the two vastly different periods of Hepburn’s life on display.
Complemented by Dorothy Fox’s period perfect wigs, Act I’s trousers and blouse, manlike in their style, give way to Hepburn’s trademark turtleneck and denim shirt in Act II.
Together, these various aspects support Zimbalist’s and Sullivan’s lovingly rendered and not-to-be-missed portrait of a true American icon.
Dink O’Neal, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn., resides in Burbank.
WHAT: “Tea at Five” by Matthew Lombardo
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 14
WHERE: The Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank
TICKETS: $27 to $42.
PHONE: (818) 955-8101