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How Katharine Hepburn comes alive at Hilton Head’s Main Street Theatre

Peggy Trecker White stars as Katharine Hepburn in Lean Ensemble Theater’s production of “Tea at Five” by Matthew Lombardo.
Peggy Trecker White stars as Katharine Hepburn in Lean Ensemble Theater’s production of “Tea at Five” by Matthew Lombardo. thefrenchguy photography

Peggy Trecker White becomes, in the course of her phenomenal performance in the one-woman show “Tea at Five,” the iconic actress, Katharine Hepburn, about whom this play was written.

As the curtain opens at the Main Street Theatre, we watch as Trecker White inhabits Hepburn ... the intelligence, the spirit, the talent, the ego, the sense of humor, even her physical appearance.

Trecker White, as Hepburn, moves nimbly, in four inch heels, as she bounds around the sitting room of the Fenwick family home in Old Saybrook, Conn. Her posture, too, responds to some embryonic tug of nature, as she moves to emphasize a passing memory or a random thought.

The story of Katharine Hepburn, portrayed in the compelling script by Matthew Lombardo, is set in two acts.

The first offers Hepburn during her Hollywood film days, as she gambols through the star system while handling dramatic, often distracting family issues. Through the evening, she shares fascinating, one-sided telephone calls, telegrams and personal notes, life altering moments that seemed to carve her life’s direction.

Under the direction of Lean Ensemble’s Ian McCabe, Trecker White brings us the 31-year-old Hepburn grappling with a low time in her career. Her reputation is badly bruised, and even though she is hoping against hope to be David O. Selznick’s pick for his highly anticipated film “Gone with the Wind,” she must overcome the rumors heard all around Hollywood that she has not only fallen from grace, but is box office poison.

In act one, we were introduced to the younger, feisty Hepburn. We, in the audience, became sympathetic.

The first act concluded as a large envelope is impersonally delivered. When opened, she found the script for “Philadelphia Story.”

When the curtain opens in the second act, we find Trecker White silhouetted against a familiar bay window.

It is 1984, and Hepburn is now 76. Her hair had grayed, and was done in the style we associate with her later years. Her uncontrollable tremor was fully in place, and the change in her voice isthe final determiner. Some young person in her recent past said it simply...”She got old.”

She wears a brace on her leg to deal with an injury sustained in a recent auto accident, and stomps around the same sitting room, with the aid of a wooden cane, railing at the distraction these physical insults had caused. On an end table near Trecker White’s blanketed chair, were bottles and bottles of medications.

All of her surroundings at Fenwick House, provide references to the passage of time, growing old, the loss of friends, and the deaths of family members, and especially, the death of the love of her life, Spencer Tracy.

In spite of those losses, Trecker White continues to offer close-up glances and views to an earlier time in Hepburn’s life. The Hepburn spirit is still in place as she shares, with a new respect, memories and close up glances of another time.

Some of the evening’s most important moments came as Trecker White revealed memories about the people who made such a difference in the way she faced her future. The distant, demanding character of her father, and to some extent, her mother, the death of her younger brother, and the way she recounted her parent’s impossible response to such a personal tragedy.

In the end, Trecker White’s performance helped us all imagine Hepburn’s journey as she gazed clear-eyed at her new reality.

Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry. Email her at nancykwellard@gmail.com.

Tea at Five

Performances: 7:30 p.m., Dec. 16

Matinee: 2 p.m. Dec. 17

Where: Hilton Head Preparatory School’s Main Street Theatre

For more information: 843-715 6676