MONTPELIER — Being William Shakespeare’s wife can’t have been any bed of roses, particularly if his 1616 last will and testament is any indication. Vern Thiessen’s one-woman play conjectures just what life might have been with the Bard for Anne Hathaway (1556-1623) — it was some roller coaster, full of love, laughter and tears.
Margo Whitcomb was Anne Hathaway Friday, when Lost Nation Theater opened its production of Thiessen’s one-woman show, “Shakespeare’s Will,” at City Hall Arts Center. Directed by Eric Love, Whitcomb’s performance was sometimes endearing, sometimes exciting, but it was always enthralling storytelling.
Shakespeare and Hathaway, him 18 and her 26, met in their hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. When she found herself pregnant, much against their families’ wishes, they married. When Shakespeare found success in theater he moved to London, leaving his wife and three children behind. He supported them, visited occasionally, but the two lived mostly separate lives. Still, Shakespeare returned to spend his final years with his wife.
So, it was quite a surprise that his complex and very specific will left Hathaway only their “second best bed.” There has been much speculation, but Thiessen has taken this and what we know about Hathaway and crafted this intriguing tale. Although there is something of a 21st century attitude, the result is believable, lots of fun and even deeply touching.
Whitcomb, better known as a stage director, has taken Thiessen’s 90-minute script and crafted a rich and sympathetic character. Rather than simply telling the story, Whitcomb lives it. In addition to being engulfed in the emotions of the moment, she reenacts much of the story quite convincingly. Importantly, she gives Hathaway the real depth of a woman who could be Shakespeare’s wife.
Underscoring Whitcomb’s success was a particularly sophisticated physical production. Kim Allen Bent’s stage design was simple, more suggestive than concrete, but it facilitated rapid changes of mood and situation. That was achieved by Charlotte Seelig’s dramatic but nuanced lighting design, and Love’s complex and suggestive sound design. The musical choices were excellent, beautiful while accentuating the moment.
Whitcomb and Love chose a very dramatic approach to Hathaway and the other characters. Though some moments were a bit over-the-top, the effect worked in making the play more than a simple narrative. Light and sound were used to create “chapter changes” which made the progression feel natural. It was as if one actor were living the story rather than “merely” telling the story.
Lost Nation Theater’s “Shakespeare’s Will” is more than a one-woman tour de force, it’s rich and rewarding storytelling.