Scenes from a marriage

Actors Theatre Playhouse to stage ‘Shakespeare’s Will,’ a one-woman play about Anne Hathaway, the Bard’s widow, on the day of his funeral

The Actors Theatre Playhouse presents Vern Thiessen's Shakespeare's Will, a one-woman presentation featuring Wendy Almeida as Anne Hathaway speaking her mind on the day of the funeral for her husband, William Shakespeare.

There are four performances only: on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 7, 8, 14, and 15, at 7:30 p.m., promptly.

Very little is actually known about William Shakespeare and his wife of 34 years. But this much we do know: Anne was 26 years old and pregnant when she married the 18-year-old bard and subsequently bore three children: a daughter and a set of twins, a son and daughter. Anne lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon, while William spent most of his adult life in London. They both died in Stratford.

They lost their son, possibly from the plague, when he was 11.

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Thiessen, a Canadian playwright, “played fast and loose,” as he put it, with the script; however, Shakespeare's actual will does survive, so we know that when he died, Anne received the “second best bed” along with the furniture, but not the house they had shared.

Thiessen has imagined the story he tells, but he used the will “as a springboard” for his imagination and has Anne speak directly from it.

The quotes, he says, became his primary inspiration in writing the play.

Based as well on what is known of Anne Hathaway's life, the play has been described as a “poetic monologue that is fragmentary, and richly allusive” by one critic.

One Shakespeare scholar is said to have interpreted the play as “an exploration of non-traditional marriages and relationships,” noting that Thiessen is exploring “the relationship between sexual freedom and patriarchal norms of male succession.”

That interpretation suggests a 21st-century feminist scholarly view, but director PeggyRae Johnson cautions that “one of the traps to any historical work in literature that deals with women's rights is the temptation to apply a contemporary perspective that can lead to some audiences feeling a level of ill will toward a character.”

It's always a challenge, she says, to see a work in its own time - a challenge she is mindful of in approaching the play.

Johnson says the playwright tells a story about real people whose history is rife with rumors and gives audiences potential insights into a marriage that has both challenges and joys.

“Anne and William made their marriage their own at a time when marriage was meant to be standardized in terms of male and female roles. We get a picture of both the highs and lows in a marital relationship. Neither one of these figures was a hero or villain. That's what makes the play so insightful, compelling, and possible.”

Almeida concurs. “What makes the play so compelling is that Thiessen takes a handful of things that are known about Anne Hathaway and William Shakespeare and invents their story from a few facts as well as what's in the will. It offers a portrait of both of them without striving to be historically accurate.”

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Acting in a one-woman play, Almeida says, is a challenge.

For one thing, being on stage alone requires learning techniques that make it work as a memory play. “Both Anne and Shakespeare remain a mystery and Thiessen's treatment offers a humorous and emotionally rich view of them,” she says.

“Shakespeare's actual will continues to remain a riddle to scholars, historians, and fans, including why he left his wife the 'second best bed,'” says producer Sam Pilo. “In Thiessen's play, we actually visit with Anne Hathaway and thus are granted a fascinating peek into what may well have been the truth of their lives.

“We also get to think about marriage and relationships in both a historical and contemporary way while spending time with one of history's 'hidden women,” Pilo says.

A reviewer in New Zealand called Shakespeare's Will “catnip for Shakespeare fans.” With its look at the playwright's interpersonal relationships, the play is clearly also catnip for couples.

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