Janis Stevens IS Katharine Hepburn on New Year’s Eve 1999. In Kate: The Unexamined Life, Stevens’ portrays the star at age 92 as she reflects on her life and career. Writer Rick Foster fills the play with poignant stories that give insight into the woman who was both film royalty and box office poison during her career. Steven’s takes on all the mannerisms of Hepburn as she re-tells the past with humor, heartbreak, and grace.
Kate: The Unexamined Life is playing at the Walnut Street Theater’s Independence Studio March 5- April 7.
Debra Danese: You brilliantly capture Hepburn’s mannerisms in your portrayal of her. How did you prepare for the role?
Janis Stevens: The inspiration for the play came from watching Dick Cavett’s 1973 interview with Katharine Hepburn and also, her television special, “All About Me,” which originally aired in 1993. I have watched both time and again when preparing to do the play. I also read most of the biographies, her autobiographical book, “Me,” and watched all of her films and video clips of interviews with Morley Safer, Barbara Walters, etc.
DD: What little known fact about her life did you learn in your research?
JS: For many years, Kate said her birthday was on November 8th-which happens to be my birthday- when, in fact, her birthday was May 12th. November 8th was her brother, Tom’s birthdate. Tom was her older brother, whom she worshipped, and who hung himself in 1921. Kate is the one who found him and that event impacted her life in untold ways. It is the “core” of Rick Foster’s play.
DD: Kate: The Unexamined Life is very emotionally driven. How do put aside the character after a performance?
JS: Because the play deals with Kate “unpacking” the story of her life in an attempt to examine it, once and for all, there is really a great catharsis for the character, as well as, hopefully, for the audience. So Kate is “free” at the play’s end and so am I.
DD: The show’s writer, Rick Foster, explores what he calls the “undiscovered country,” or one’s final days. How do you interpret that period of one’s life?
JS: I think we live the youthful and middle ages of our lives with a sense of “adventure” – of vitality and the ability to make as many choices as we can imagine for ourselves. As one enters the waning years of life, oftentimes, health and loss of energy impact our ability to remain physically and, sometimes, mentally active. It is a difficult process to step into that “country” that is so foreign to everything that has gone before – to have nothing “to do” and to look in the mirror and not recognize ourselves.
DD: What are some of the unique challenges to being the only actor on-stage for the duration of a play?
JS: Of course, the greatest challenge of a one-person play is to maintain the energy required to keep the evening moving forward. There is no one to rely on but yourself. The experience the audience has is all on you!
DD: You were last seen at the Walnut Street Theater in in the 2006 production of Vivien. What’s it like to be back after all this time?
JS: Returning to the Walnut Street Theatre is really like coming home to “family” as the management, staff, and artists are a true ensemble company. And Philadelphia is a great city, reminiscent of being in some of the old cities of Europe where I spent my early career. “Fantastic,” as Kate would say.
[Walnut Street Theater Independence Studio on 5, 9th and Walnut Streets] March 5-April 7, 2019; walnutstreettheatre.org