Get to Know Katharine Hepburn at Walnut Street Theatre

Katharine Hepburn is a household name. She was a queen of film and stage (despite being labeled as “box office poison” at one point). She also received four Academy Awards for Best Actress- a record that will be hard to beat- for Morning Glory, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter, and On Golden Pond. We’ve all seen at least one of her films and now, through Kate, The Unexamined Life, we see Katharine herself. We meet her and hear the story of her life in this intimate one-woman show at Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence on Studio 3.

Our visit begins in 1999 (the same year that Katharine was named greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema by the American Film Institute). It’s New Year’s Eve and Katharine invites us into an attic, a visual metaphor for her very full life- the space is filled with memories and items that prompt Katharine to tell the audience her stories and secrets. We see her comical side and the spitfire that she can be at points. We see and feel her sadness in other portions of this meeting. We see raw honesty as Katharine, at the age of 92, simply tells it like it is.

Actress Janis Stevens is Katharine. Playwright Rick Foster created Kate, The Unexamined Life with Stevens in mind and she has been channeling the great actress since the play’s premiere in Sacramento in 2014. Stevens handles all of Katharine’s emotions so flawlessly; crying and laughing in the same breath at times. Making us do the same. All too often we think we know a star, a musician, any public figure. But do we? Stevens’ performance is so believable that I forgot this was just a show and that the real Hepburn is no longer with us. I left the theater having a greater appreciation for who Katharine really was and I’ll be watching her films in a whole new light now. I’m thankful this show exists and that Foster felt the need to share Katharine’s story.

Though Katharine grew up in Connecticut, she had ties to our area. She began to act while studying at nearby Bryn Mawr College, which is just off the Main Line. Fans of Katharine Hepburn will know that she played the lead in The Philadelphia Story, as a daughter of a wealthy Main Line family. The play’s writer, Philip Barry, also wrote Without Love, which opened March 23, 1942 at Walnut Street Theatre and starred Katharine Hepburn.

You can welcome “Katharine” back to the Walnut Street Theatre in Kate, The Unexamined Life now until April 7th. Tickets are available here.

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