Janis Stevens shines in Sacramento Theatre Company’s production of Kate: The Unexamined Life of Katharine Hepburn.

Kate: The Unexamined Life of Katharine Hepburn, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; $15-$38. Pollack Stage at Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H Street; (916) 443-6722; www.sactheatre.org. Through December 14.

When playwright Rick Foster and actress Janis Stevens team up, watch out. Better yet, just sit back and watch. And marvel. Stevens took Foster’s Vivien, about actress Vivien Leigh, all the way to New York—something she’s sure to do again with their latest collaboration, Kate: The Unexamined Life of Katharine Hepburn.

Even Meryl Streep sometimes gets caught “acting.” Not so Stevens in this remarkable character study making its world premiere at the Sacramento Theatre Company. There isn’t an ounce of artifice in her portrayal. Stevens knows this character and has lived this life. She and Hepburn are not that dissimilar—both being strong, remarkable women.

For this outstanding production, in addition to Foster and Stevens, there’s director Peter Sander, lighting designer Ron Madonia and costumer Gail Russell.

The play takes place on New Year’s Eve in 1999, when a 92-year-old mostly wheelchair-bound Hepburn is alone except for her helper, the periodically summoned Mr. Rotterdam (Marty Parker). Foster rightly sets Kate in the final act of Hepburn’s life, affording the ability to reflect upon the highs and lows of a long career—and revealing some secrets that the notoriously private woman had kept to herself.

We learn about her accomplished parents, about her older brother’s tragic death, and her relationships—professional and sometimes otherwise—with actors Montgomery Clift and Warren Beatty, billionaire Howard Hughes, and the love of her life, Spencer Tracy. Stevens’ expression lightens and darkens in these rambling recollections according to Hepburn’s like, dislike or mistrust of the subject. She seems to truly be reveling in the remembrance.

Although this play looks back, Hepburn was reluctant to dwell on what had been. “Forward, always forward,” she said. “The past is shit.” But sometimes we can’t shake that “shit” and it makes us who we are.