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Beate Hein Bennett

“Shakespeare’s Will”

Tannis Kowalchuk as Anne Hathaway in "Shakespeare's Will." Photo by EmilyHewitt.

March 14 – April 1
HERE, 145 Sixth Ave. (at Dominick Str. 1 block south of Spring Str.)
Presented by NACL
Tues – Sat @ 7 PM, Wed, Sat, Sun @ 2 PM (except 3/14 and 3/18)
Gen. Adm. $25, students $15
Box Office: 212-352-3101 www.NACL.org
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett March 15, 2018

In William Shakespeare’s biography much speculation has occupied his marital relationship with Anne Hathaway. She was eight years his senior and apparently never was with him in London, where he spent most of his life occupied with his theatrical activity. She stayed behind in Stratford and took care of the children: Susanna, the eldest, and the twins Judith and Hamnet, his only son, who died around age ten. We know almost nothing about Anne, the daughter of a landowner in Arden, near Stratford. We do know that in his will, Shakespeare bequeathed the best bed to Susanna while his wife got the second best. She also outlived him by a few years. Shakespeare had returned to his home in Stratford around 1611 and passed away, a well-to-do man, in 1616—and presumably, Anne buried him, in the company of family and his illustrious theater friends from London.

NACL and HERE present the New York City premiere of “Shakespeare’s Will” by award winning Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen. This play focuses exclusively on Anne Hathaway and is homage to women who remain the stalwart companions-in-shadow to famous (and infamous) men.

Tannis Kowalchuk, co-artistic director of NACL, performs the trajectory of Anne’s married existence in the course of 65 minutes, no intermission. She presents “her” Anne as an independent full-bodied sensual woman—Elizabethan lustiness, as Shakespeare composed many of his mature female characters (Mistress Quigley comes to mind), mixes with her sensitive appreciation of poetic language while her independent willfulness is mellowed by emotional loyalty. Her intelligence competes with a sense of unfulfilled desires. Mischievousness makes her fall in love with the “inexperienced” 18 year old Will but her courageous realism makes her into his competent “absent” wife. All these qualities are present in the nuances with which Ms. Kowalchuk imbues Anne Hathaway. While the ear at times is jarred with some anachronisms—the writer has created a hybrid text with modern lingo and some Elizabethan resonances, at times infusing actual Shakepeare poems—her performance slides over these with her delightful sense of ironic humor.

Sound and music by Kurt Knuth and Rima Chand, performed live by Ms. Chand on an assemblage of keyboard, violin, and bells accompany the text with instant atmospheric contours. Director Mimi McGurl sets the playing space with a central embroidered rug, a rough-hewn wooden table, a chair, some props, and a coat rack with a few extra pieces of clothing. Lighting by Rachael Saltzman evokes the various interior and exterior landscapes that Anne inhabits. Costume designer Karen Flood has dressed Anne in a simple black combination of a long slender velvet overdress (slightly medieval) layered with a modern tunic and pants that visually emphasize the hybrid modern/Elizabethan quality of the text. While Ms. Kowalchuk fills the intimate space of the downstairs HERE theater with elegant movement, I wish Ms. McGurl’s choreographic direction would trust audience attention more by giving Anne some longer moments of repose where the text warrants.

The performance presents an enjoyable thought experiment about the life of the underexposed companion to Shakespeare, a legendary figure, whose art is now owned by the world. We always wonder about the human being that inhabits the genius but we rarely wonder about the companion who enables the life of the genius.


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