Little is known of the biography of William Shakespeare. A few things we do know: After marrying Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior, and the birth of their first child, he left her in their hometown of Stratford to pursue a theatrical career in London, returning only occasionally over the coming years to father three more children, one of whom (Hamnet) died young. Just before returning to Stratford to retire, he purchased a beautiful home. But he didn’t live there long before he passed away. Anne did not inherit that house.
Famously, Will left most of his property to his sister, and Anne’s entire inheritance consisted of “the second-best bed.”
Well, this is a puzzling story for a man who wrote some of the most passionate and beautiful love poetry in the English language, and convincingly created complex portraits of marriages for many of his characters.
Could his own marriage have been loveless and uncommmitted? How can we interpret the legacy of the “second best bed”? What is the meaning of Shakespeare’s Will?
Starting with the assumption that Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, would have likely married a passionate woman, and, as a young man, certainly fall easily into love, Vern Thiessen weaves what little is known and conjectured of Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway to construct a story that explores the mystery of their relationship, and imagines an explanation for the odd legacy he left her.
The story is told as a lengthy monolog for Anne Hathaway, who, a widow, reflects back on the story of her life and marriage.
Elena Wright is capable of holding our interest for a solo monolog lasting more than an hour. This is no small feat. However, the emotional range achieved is not wide enough to encompass a story of passionate love, multiple affairs, motherhood, the loss of a young son, and abandonment by an adored spouse. We long for a symphony of emotion, but what we get is closer to a flute sonata. Lovely, but insubstantial.
Elana Wright’s performance is at its most passionate when Anne Hathaway amusingly imitates her father’s reaction to her choice of Shakespeare as a match. Anne’s characterization of her father has more authentic passion than Elana’s characterization of Anne.
The result is a pleasant enough entertainment that holds our interests for the moment, offers some interesting speculation about Shakespeare’s life, and vanishes into the night with the Marin fog.
My own speculation is that this material might have worked better as an historical novel than a monolog.
“Shakespeare’s Will” plays at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican College in San Rafael, through July 8th. For further information, click here.
Rating: **1/2 (for an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.
“Shakespeare’s Will” by Vern Thiessen.Produced by Marin Shakespeare Company. Director: Delia MacDougall. Costume Designer: Tammy Berlin. Lighting Designer: April George. Properties and Set Decor: Joel Eis. Set Designer: Jackson Currier. Sound Designer/Composer: Billie Cox.
Elena Wright as Anne Hathway.