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BWW Review: JANIS STEVENS IS RIVETING AS KATHARINE HEPBURN at American Stage

In Rick Foster's play, Kate: The Unexamined Life of Katharine Hepburn at American Stage, actress Janis Stevens simply is Kate.

BWW Review: JANIS STEVENS IS RIVETING AS KATHARINE HEPBURN  at American StageIn Rick Foster's play, Kate: The Unexamined Life of Katharine Hepburn at American Stage, actress Janis Stevens simply was Kate. She channeled the spirit of 92-year-old Katharine and wore her as easily as one puts on a sweater. From the warble in her speech to the essential tremor, wheelchair-bound in an attic of memories, on New Year's Eve 1999, Janis took us on a behind the scenes journey of an unlikely Hollywood star in the 1930s.

Entrepreneurial, unconventional, and progressive, Katharine Hepburn was a force to be reckoned with. Raised by socialist, atheist parents, a vocal activist mother, and a urologist father, the couple taught their many children to be strong and independent.

At an early age, Kate decided she wanted to be a boy for a while, like her brothers, cutting her hair, dressing in her brother's shirt and pants, and demanding to be called Jimmy. Instead of reacting negatively, her mother adored her creative expression.

Janis looked into the camera on my laptop and dead-panned, "If her first daughter is also her second son, who cares, she loved it."

Tragedy repeatedly struck the Hepburn household, but Kate was taught to cover her emotions despite the immeasurable loss and wear a smile to mask the despair. Forward, always forward was the Hepburn motto. She knew she had to bounce back from setbacks and obstacles as that was the Hepburn family way.

Though her mother was proud of her stage career, she refused to support her career in film. When she was discovered by an RKO Radio Pictures talent scout on Broadway, she was offered an audition for a role starring opposite John Barrymore in the 1932 movie, A Bill of Divorcement. She never looked back. Although her mother never came around and watched any films her daughter was in, it didn't stop Kate from pursuing her passion.

In bold strokes, Janis told us how Katharine made her own opportunities in Hollywood, despite a time when women were seen and not heard. She bought film rights and produced her own movies, with the caveat that she had absolute control over the cast, crew, director, and of course, was its star. Over a career spanning more than six decades, she took home four Academy Awards.

When Janis spoke about Spencer Tracy and Phyllis Wilbourn, you believed she talked from personal experience from the heart. She gave a preview of the true love she shared with Spencer, from friends and lovers to being his nursemaid before he passed. She never outed, yet hinted that there was more to the long-time relationship with her secretary and friend, Phyllis, whom she took care of as Phyllis succumbed to dementia.

Kate would cloak her loneliness and sadness behind the smile. Her private life helped mold and teach her how to be an amazing actress. Janis portrayed Kate with such compassion and wisdom, by the time the play ended, you felt you, indeed, had an insider's connection to the life of the beloved actress.



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From This Author Deborah Bostock-Kelley