'Shakespeare's Will' : The Bard's wife takes center stage


LENOX -- Anne Hathaway was the quintessential stay-at-home mom.

While her husband, William Shakespeare, was off in London fashioning a career as a playwright, Anne lived her life in Stratford-Upon-Avon, raising their three children -- Susanna, Judith and Judith's twin, Hamnet, who died at age 11.

Like so many stay-at-home wives, Hathaway has "gotten short shrift," says Daniela Varon, who is directing a play about Hathaway, "Shakespeare's Will" by Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen, opening 7:30 p.m., Saturday, at Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre where it has been previewing since last Saturday.

"Shakespeare's Will" is scheduled to run through Aug. 24 in repertory with "Julius Caesar" (June 27-Aug. 30) and Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" (Aug. 6-Sept. 14).

Much of Hathaway's life and background has been the subject of speculation. What is known for sure is that:

n She was 26 and pregnant when she and Shakespeare, who was 18 at the time, married in 1584.

n Anne died in 1623, at the age of 67, seven years after the death of her husband.

n Shakespeare did leave a will in which he bequeathed his wife "my second best bed with the furniture" -- the meaning of which has been open to conjecture and scholarly debate for centuries.

But "Shakespeare's Will," Thiessen writes in his notes for the play, is not about history. It unfolds, Theissen writes, in "[Anne's] imagination, her memory, her dreams ."

"I think of it as a fantasia about Anne Hathaway; his [Thiessen's] riff on who Hathaway was," Varon said.

"He has few facts to imagine who she was. He's not interested in trying to be historically accurate. He's interested in exploring this woman. He's writing about a woman who faced adversity and came out the other side."

The play's location is Hathaway's Stratford home, to which she is returning after having just buried her husband. She is in possession of his last will and testament and keeps putting off reading it, even as Judith, with whom Anne is on unfriendly terms, is due later in the day to discuss the will.

As Anne waits, she drifts back over her relationship with her husband, the crises in their lives, chief among them the death of their son.

"Shakespeare's Will" was commissioned by Free Will Players and it premiered in 2005 at Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It was produced in a revised version in 2007 at the Stratford Festival in Ontario and made its American debut that same year at Theatre 40 in Los Angeles.

Shakespeare & Company artistic director Tony Simotes saw the play in a production in Wisconsin and thought it would suit the intimate Bernstein space.

"He had strong feelings about Kristin doing it, as did I when I read it," Varon said.

"We each have such a deep personal relationship with Shakespeare and who he might have been.

"I also was drawn by the language."

So was Kristin Wold, who is playing Anne.

"I didn't know this play when it was offered to me," Wold said. What caught her, she said, is "the play's life in the imagination and metaphor.

"It's written in blank verse. It's very imagistic; a lot of alliteration."

Text is everything in "Shakespeare's Will." Wold acknowledges that learning this text has been a challenge. She's been memorizing the script with the help of an audio tape she recorded and which she plays repeatedly while driving back and forth between the Berkshires and her full-time job teaching in the theater department at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

It helps that Varon and Wold have known each other roughly 26 years. They each have extensive Shakespeare & Company credits (most recently for Wold, "King Lear" and "The Tempest;" for Varon, "Romeo & Juliet" and "Sea Marks").

"We are colleagues," Varon said. "I love working with this woman."

"Shakespeare's Will" is only the second time they've worked together as director and actress. The first was "Sea Marks" in Shakespeare & Company's 2010 season.

"Theater is always a collaborative process," Varon said. "With one actress, it's super collaborative."

In that collaboration, the aim, Varon said, is "to find ways to be theatrical; to ground the play in the period while it lives in the imagination" of audiences and of a woman who, centuries after her death, has found her voice through the imagination of a playwright.


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