Kate: the Unexamined Life by Playwright Rick Foster is now being gloriously realized by Janice Stevens at the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3 now until April 7.
Originally produced in 2014, Kate: the Unexamined Life recounts what might have happened if we were to visit the ninety-two-year-old Katherine Hepburn on New Year’s Eve, 1999. She tells us about growing up, her family, the multiple tragedies which befell her in her personal life, her passionate friendships, and her passion for her work. Considered to be “box office poison” in the early 1930s because she appeared to be too angular and unfeminine, Hepburn later took control of her career, engineering her path as a major star for over 60 years. Indeed, the American Film Institute named her as the “greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema.” She won four Academy Awards. Katherine Hepburn was born in Connecticut in 1907 and died in Connecticut in 2003, aged 96.
The audience this evening early in the run included mostly people over 60, with a good number of people under 30 in this intimate space. Janice Stevens was the sole character in this one-woman, 90-minute event. Displaying Herculean stamina and focus, she navigated her wheelchair around and about the set perfectly, all the while intently engaging audience members with piercing eye-contact throughout her nuanced monologues. Peter Sander directed her magnificent performance.
We learned many interesting facts as well as many sad facts in Kate: the Unexamined Life. We learned that Tom, the older brother she worshipped, hanged himself while still a teenager. It was something Hepburn really never recovered from, especially since it was she who found him and cut him down. We discovered that to please Tom, she dressed and acted like a boy. She insisted on being called Jimmy. We heard tales about her activist mother and stern father. Hepburn also was the one to find her mother dead in bed. We are told that Hepburn found working with Montgomery Clift painful, since he looked and acted so much like her dead brother Tom. We heard about her short marriage to a wealthy youth and of her “affairs” with Howard Hughes and the married Spencer Tracy. She also found Spencer Tracy dead in her kitchen. Only in passing do we hear the word “lesbian” spoken, and that only because she wore slacks. Nothing else was said about it, not even about her relationship with her secretary with whom she lived for many years. Rick Foster is no Scotty Bowers. Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, Bowers’ scandalous (and mostly verified) tell-all about many celebrities, including Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, has been attacked by both Hepburn’s and Tracy’s relatives as lies. Regardless, there are so many fascinating tales in Kate: the Unexamined Life, we can only say Pace, pace, mio dio!
It’s been over a decade since Janice Stevens last appeared at the Walnut Theatre. We hope that she will return soon. In the meantime, see a great actress giving a Barrymore-deserving performance in a role she truly appears to love. Do not miss the opportunity to see Janice Stevens triumph in Kate: the Unexamined Life.
Kate: the Unexamined Life at the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3 is now onstage until April 7. Starting April 23, Civil War Voices will be onstage until May 26. For information about these plays and the rest of the season, visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org or phone 215-574-3550.
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