On the one hand we know too much about Anne Hathaway — the movie star.
On the other, we don’t know much about Anne Hathaway — Shakespeare’s wife. And we still don’t after watching playwright Vern Thiessen’s “Shakespeare’s Will,” a one-woman show featuring Anne on the day of the bard’s funeral.
Cathleen Fuller plays the role in Bain Boehlke’s production at the Jungle Theater. Her performance cannot overcome the script’s shortcomings.
The play is set on the day that Shakespeare has returned to Stratford on Avon to be buried. He has spent most of his life in the London theater. While he was away, Anne stayed home and raised their three children.
Anne resists opening and reading Will’s will, intended to disburse his worldly treasure. Is she worried to see what it will say? Is she nervous in anticipation? Fuller and Boehlke give us few clues, other than a dour attitude that seems to anticipate bad news.
In the meantime, she maunders about their past.
Thiessen does not so much investigate the historical figure as imagine a modern interpretation for this Elizabethan woman.
He uses the marriage of Ann and Will Shakespeare to spin a poetic ode that does not seem to have a particular point. “Shakespeare’s Will” is a work of style, an acting exercise of little substance with words intended to sound good in the same sentence. So we have Anne summoning the sea, the shore, the slap of water, the sunshine, the white-toothed smile of the surf.
Anne’s remembered conversations with her husband sound manufactured, as if David Mamet somehow got into the typewriter: The dialogue, I say; Is stilted, you say? Yes, I say. It calls attention, I say; To itself, you say?
At times, Anne gets a little blue (not sad), with hot and randy chatter about riding suitors like stallions. Why shouldn’t she be taking lovers, she argues. Will is down in London with a boy or two. These sideways glances seem like ornaments intended to titillate rather than illuminate.
When Anne finally opens and reads the will, it reveals the famous line that she should receive the second best bed and the furniture. She’s disappointed, but we might have guessed that all along.
Fuller speaks well and gives a decent account of whatever this character is, in Thiessen’s conception. She’s a woman of modern desires and a longing for escape in the sea.
Understand, this is Thiessen’s imagination talking, not history. Anne missed Will and wished he were back at home. It wasn’t a great marriage.
But we might have already guessed that.