If seeing Kate Mulgrew do Katharine Hepburn in Tea at Five rouses a thirst for the real thing, the Charles Theatre offers an ideal way to slake it with a seven-week tribute to this unlikely Hollywood luminary, screening Saturdays at noon and Thursdays at 9 p.m. As Martin Scorsese and Cate Blanchett make comically and poignantly clear in The Aviator, Hepburn was the rare female star who was neither a glamour girl nor an Everywoman. But her roles were so diverse that every woman could identify with her. With her piercing voice, knife-like posture and switchblade limbs, she was as easy for nightclub comics to imitate as James Cagney. But like Cagney her hallmark was versatility.
In 1933's Little Women (Jan. 22 and 27) she's the quintessential literary tomboy - she transforms adolescent feistiness into an offbeat allure. In 1935's Alice Adams (Jan. 29 and Feb. 3) she is both arch and lyrical as the upwardly hopeful daughter of an unlucky clerk. When Alice tries to put on airs, she makes you wince and laugh simultaneously.
In 1936's too-little-seen Sylvia Scarlett (Feb. 5 and 10), a transvestite comedy-drama with a musical buzz to it, Hepburn plays the title character, who crops her hair, dons men's clothes and adopts the name Sylvester. She's like an erotic Peter Pan, defining the intersection of boyishness and girlishness. As a budding Broadway star in 1937's Stage Door (Feb. 12 and 17), a brainy aristocrat who wants to make it on her own, she proves a deft verbal sparring partner to Ginger Rogers as her streetwise roommate. And as the crazy-like-a-minx rich girl who turns everything upside-down, including a dinosaur skeleton, for paleontologist Cary Grant in 1938's Bringing Up Baby (Feb. 19 and 24), she's like Gracie Allen and the Graces of pleasure, charm and beauty rolled into one.
Too bad the Charles programmers couldn't get their hands on a 35-mm print of The African Queen (1951) and The Philadelphia Story (1940), which features Hepburn at her sexiest, is temporarily "out of release." I wish they had penciled in the comic wonders of Adam's Rib (1949) or Pat and Mike (1952), the best Spencer Tracy-Hepburn movies, instead of the first one, 1942's Woman of the Year (Feb. 26 and March 3), so uneven artistically and surprisingly retro sexually. And, unfortunately, the series ends on March 5 and 10 with Joseph L. Mankiewicz's overheated adaptation of a minor Tennessee Williams play, 1959's Suddenly, Last Summer, instead of Sidney Lumet's harrowing 1962 production of Eugene O' Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, where Hepburn is the standout in a cast of standouts.
Lumet himself has described her performance - with its shivers of panic, and glassy-eyed resignation - as "the personification of tragic acting."
But the series is a generous, fitting, overdue tribute to Hepburn the rebel, the misfit and the daredevil.
For more information go to www.thecharles.com.
This weekend's Cinema Sundays at the Charles presents a movie that's been tearing up the French box-office: Christophe Barratier's The Chorus, an uplifting tale of choral music redeeming problem children. WBJC's Jonathan Palevsky will serve as guest host (regular host Gabe Wardell will be at Sundance). Betty Bertaux, artistic director of the Children's Chorus of Maryland, will be guest speaker. Coffee and bagels: 9:45 a.m. Show time: 10:35 a.m. Admission: $15. Information: www.cinemasundays.com.
Ryan Graham, an organizer of the First Annual Hondance Independent Film and Arts Festival, hopes that this public celebration of visual artists, musicians and theater talents, taking place tomorrow and Sunday at the Top Floor Theater (5440 Harford Road), will be "a modern vaudeville performance." Among the participants are more than a dozen filmmakers, including Skizz Cyzyk and Catherine Pancake, and musicians, including the Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad. It runs from 2 p.m. to midnight tomorrow and from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $18 (weekend), $12 (tomorrow), and $10 (Sunday). A Saturday evening pass (from 8 p.m. to midnight) is available for $8. For reservations, call 443-691-7040. For more information go to www.hondance.com.
Hippodrome on film
At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, the restored Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center celebrates its first anniversary by premiering an hour-long documentary about the theater's rise, fall and rebirth, Showtime at the Hippodrome. The director, Bill Whiteford, who shared a best documentary Oscar for the 1999 short subject King Gimp, tells the story of this beloved venue from its vintage vaudeville days to its revival. The gala includes a champagne and dessert reception; proceeds will benefit the Baltimore City Mounted Police Unit and the Hippodrome Foundation's education programs. Tickets ($35, $50) are available at the Hippodrome box office, Ticketmaster, 410-547-SEAT or 800-551-SEAT or at www.ticket master.com.