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Theatre Review: Kate


Critic Jeff Hudson says it's a striking show, powered by a remarkable performance.

The Sacramento Theatre Company's production of "Kate" continues through December 14th. As the show begins, the lights come up to reveal Janis Stevens as Katherine Hepburn – ninety-years-old, in a wheelchair… still feisty, but with her physical range limited by her condition. It quickly becomes clear that actress Stevens, who makes a specialty of playing notable women of a certain age, has once again immersed herself in a complicated, compelling character.

Kate: Did I welcome you yet? Apparently not. What a bad hostess! You can see I’ve become a cranky old witch. As opposed to the cranky young witch that the world once fell in love with. Little did they know!

She starts by talking about her family – her mother was a socialist and a crusader, who exchanged letters with the likes of George Bernard Shaw. Her father was a noted doctor, whose medical specialty influenced his entire philosophy of life.

Kate: Well, of course, my dad has a theory. Dreams are the brain’s urination. (Laughter). Get the waste out, and flush it down. Never underestimate the urological point of view.”

But this intellectual levity soon gives way to this play’s primary focus.

Kate: Trouble is Dad died when he was only 80 something. Barely got his feet wet in the old age game. Didn’t take to it. Could win. Old age is the undiscovered country. Sorry, Mister Hamlet. Death’s a piece of cake.”

She talks about the composer Haydn, whose mind remained fertile in his old age, though his body wore out after writing 104 symphonies.

But mostly she remembers people she’s loved and lost. Her older brother, who took his life and was never mentioned in family conversation again. Her parents, who didn’t really respect her success in Hollywood. And actor Spencer Tracy, her great love, who she nursed during his last years.

This role was written for Stevens by California playwright Rick Foster. And together with visiting New York director Peter Sander, they’ve created with a show that reminds you of Hepburn’s powerful personality and glorious achievements, as well as what happens to all of us if we live to age 90. The last time these three artists worked together on a show, it went all the way to New York and earned Stevens a Drama Desk nomination. And I wouldn’t be surprised if “Kate” goes to New York someday, too. Catch it while you can during this Sacramento premiere.

The Sacramento Theatre Company's production of "Kate" continues through Dec. 21.

Here's the Insight segment featuring “Kate” playwright Rick Foster, actress Janis Stevens (who stars as Kate), and retired actor Mitch Agruss (who appeared with Hepburn in a Shakespeare play in 1957).

Talk of the Nation retrospective on the career of Katherine Hepburn, at the time of her death in 2003

All Things Considered piece from on Hepburn’s stage career.


Jeff Hudson

Contributing Arts Reporter and Theatre Critic

Jeff Hudson has been contributing arts-related stories to Capital Public Radio since 1995, with an emphasis on theater and classical music. He attends over 100 performances annually, ranging from modern musicals to medieval masses.   Read Full Bio 

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