“Shakespeare’s Will” explores his relationship with the wife he left behind to tend the home.
We don’t know much about the relationship between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. To use modern terms, it was a commuter marriage — he worked in London theater and she was stuck back home with the kids in Stratford-on-Avon.
But there was no e-mail, texting, phone or Skype. They went long stretches with no communication and even longer between face-to-face visits. Tough to keep the home fires burning, if that’s what they did in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen has cobbled together the few facts we know about Hathaway and fashioned a one-person play, “Shakespeare’s Will,” that uses the Bard’s final testament as a jumping-off point to imagine the long-distance marriage. Actor Cathy Fuller will play Hathaway in a Jungle Theater production opening Friday night.
When Shakespeare died in 1616, he left to his wife of 34 years “my second-best bed and furniture.” This odd bequest has fueled great speculation. Was it a cheap slap at Hathaway (the bulk of the estate was left to their daughter, Susanna) or was it a symbolic gift of the wedding bed to someone who probably also automatically was entitled to a third of the estate?
The question is significant for what it might intimate about the quality of their relationship. The answer is simply speculation, because there was no People magazine or TMZ to report the sizzling headlines: “Will parties in London while Anne steams in Stratford.”
Unburdened by the strictures of history, Thiessen imagined Anne returning to her home following Shakespeare’s funeral (she outlived William by seven years) and reminiscing on their life together — or mostly apart. They married in 1582, when he was 18 and she was 26 (and with child — scandal!!!!). Three years later, he was off for London to make his fame and whatever fortune he could amass. She stayed at Stratford, about 80 miles away. He got home when he could.
“Vern imagined what it was like for her, and all those years he wasn’t home,” said Fuller.
A friend had shown her the script a while back and after reading it, Fuller decided she would like to do it. She pitched it to Bain Boehlke at the Jungle and he said, Let’s do it.
“I was shocked,” Fuller said.
It took a while to figure out the timing but Boehlke, who directs the show, scheduled it for this year. Fuller admitted that as opening night approached, she had been very cautious to make sure everything works out.
“I don’t want to be around anyone sick; ice on the sidewalk terrifies me; when I’m playing tennis, I don’t run for balls because I don’t want to hurt myself,” she said. “There is no way this is not going to happen.”
The play was commissioned by the Freewill Players in Edmonton in 2005. It was done in 2007 at the Stratford Festival outside Toronto with Seana McKenna. She returned to do it at Stratford, and in 2012, the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis., produced the work.
“This is a way for her to tell Will how she saw what happened in her life,” Fuller said of her character. “She tells him about the children, life at home.”
Didn’t they have Facebook?
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu., ends March 23, Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., $25-$43, 612-822-7063 or jungletheater.com
As long as we’re in that 16th-century frame of mind, Walking Shadow Theatre Company is opening “Mary Stuart” on Friday at Red Eye in Minneapolis. Friedrich Schiller’s 1800 play on the final days of Mary, Queen of Scots, has been a staple of the theatrical world, although it generally surfaces through adaptations. Walking Shadow is using Peter Oswald’s new translation, which debuted at the Donmar Warehouse in 2005.