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Kate or Katharine - JD Fox on Rick Foster's KATE: The UnExamined Life of Katharine Hepburn

September 05, 2017


Click here for Tickets to  KATE: The UnExamined Life of Katharine Hepburn 
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Freelance writer JD Fox looks forward to Rick Foster's new play about Katharine "Kate" Hepburn


The press release is out. The posters are up. And Lost Nation Theater is on schedule to bring “Kate  - The Unexamined Life of Katharine Hepburn” to Montpelier.

The subtitle alone is curiosity piquing, playing as it does on the well-known Socratic one-liner. But before that post-hyphen explication, her name sits hesitantly on my tongue before coming out, as if saying it thus would violate some unspoken naming etiquette.

The feeling is even more pronounced when trying to drop Kate against her last name, Hepburn. Maybe it is because of her intimidating stature as a celebrated and oft-lauded actor whose career spanned a staggering six decades. Or maybe it’s simply because my ears are accustomed to hearing her name drawn out fully in the credits of movies or announcements of awards. 

Regardless, her entrance into my mind requires the multi-syllabic Katharine joining Hepburn, allowing sufficient time for a full Pomp and Circumstance of thoughts to usher her in. 

These thoughts include the usual suspects, like her starring in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and On Golden Pond. And, long before HAL and SkyNet, the hilarious computer-gone-wild flick Desk Set. Probing some film lists, I have numerous oh yeah moments, reading and remembering Lion in Winter, Adams’s Rib, and African Queen, to name just a few. 

Beyond the films, there are the nearly three dozen plays and multiple television performances, with each one showcasing again and again her undeniable talent.

But these sightings – on stage, on big screen, on small screen – are characters, not the actor herself. They might be fully-embodied, fully-realized characters, but they are not Kate.

So how do we get to know the real person? Get to know that elegant, red carpet personality full of poise and grace Katharine Hepburn as well as the in-your-face, uncompromising Kate who, in an aside in the press release, had the confidence and self-assurance to strut around the set in her underwear until her stolen pants were given back.

If only we had an opportunity to spend a little time with her off-stage and off-screen, out of character and out of costume. Time to spend with her where we could discover, in her own directly-to-us words, not only what happened in her life, but what she felt about those things. Where we could hear not only the facts that come up in googling, but the more nuanced, privy to her alone tidbits that make it truly her life and not just any life. 

But alas, she has passed away, shutting off that possibility. Or has she?

Lost Nation Theater and Janis Stevens have persuasively resurrected the icon, offering us an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime – or maybe it’s a once-in-an-after-lifetime -- opportunity to get up-close and personal with her. From the trailer I’ve seen, Mrs. Stevens exists only in the credits. We will be spending our time instead with Mrs. Katharine Hepburn herself.

Known to her friends as Kate.


JD Fox is a writer, based in Montpelier. He is a member of the Burlington Writers Workshop.