LENOX -- A column of words written in an elegant cursive dominates Patrick Brennan’s spare, inventive setting for director Daniela Varon’s richly textured production of "Shakespeare’s Will," Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen’s full, richly textured play about Anne Hathaway, wife of William Shakespeare, at Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre.
Not much is known about Hathaway. Eight years older than Shakespeare, she was pregnant when they married in 1582. She was 26 at the time; he was 18. She raised their three children -- one of whom, their only boy, Hamnet, died tragically at the age of 11 -- and remained in Stratford-Upon-Avon while her husband went off to London to find fame and fortune as an actor and playwright, returning at last to Stratford in 1610 to live out the years until his death in 1616 at the age of 52.
The gaps in our knowledge of Anne give Thiessen considerable license and he takes full advantage in a finely tuned blank verse drama that seamlessly connects words, thought, rhythm, expression to the inner emotional life of its central character, Hathaway, and the others in her life whom she summons; played here by Kristin Wold with keen sensitivity to the vibrant palette Thiessen has provided.
"Shakespeare’s Will" begins as Anne is returning home in the hours following her husband’s funeral. She places on a table her late husband’s last will and testament, delaying reading the fateful document until virtually the last possible moment.
"I long for the sea," she says as she moves through the house, their bedroom. The sea beckons Anne. But it proves to be a hard beckoning as Anne, the house filled with memory and the echoes of lives lived there, begins a conversation with her late husband that will take her, and us, from their first meeting at country fair and their subsequent sweaty, innocent -- she is Shakespeare’s first sexual experience -- coupling in her father’s barn, to their courtship and wedding; the challenges of a married couple, parents of three children, living separate lives in accordance with their freely entered into mutual agreement "to live our own lives; to treat each other well but allow for our own separate desires; to have our secrets but protect what we each hold most dear. It will be our own kind of marriage."
In Wold’s expert hands, Anne emerges as a strong, independent, resourceful woman -- unapologetic for her liberating sexuality as she takes on a series of incidental lovers; struggling as a mother to do right by and for her children, to be what they need her to be; to fulfill her own needs; to provide and maintain and, when tragedy strikes, to bear, amid the kind of deep profound loss that never lets go of a parent -- the loss of a child -- the hurtful indignity of a husband who has held her responsible for that loss.
Wold misses little in a meticulously crafted, revealing performance that speaks with eloquence and plainness, lyricism and directness.
She often moves like an elfin sprite, reveling in freedom of spirit and of body (how vividly she recalls a haystack romp with a stranger passing through town who seeks lodging for the night in Anne’s barn); deeply wounded when finally she reads Shakespeare’s will and finds his bequest to her of "my second best bed and the furniture"; her expression of longing, at the end as in the beginning, for the sea "to let the waves wash my wounds clean of consequence, of memory, of words."