Tannis Kowalchuk, Photo credit: Emily Hewitt
by Julia Polinsky
The minute you start tinkering with the Legend that is
Shakespeare, you invite disagreement. The problem is: we don’t know much about
Shakespeare. Existing documents include such things as birth, marriage, and
death records, and, of course, his will, with the famous legacy: to his wife,
Anne Hathaway, he left only his second-best bed.
Writers from James Joyce to Germaine Greer have worked that
bequest, viewing the will, and the second-best bed, through their own lenses.
In Shakespeare’s Will, bequest, will, and wife provide the grist from
which playwright Vern Thiessen tediously grinds this one-woman one-act. An
earnest performance by Tannis Kowalchuk, under the direction of Mimi McGurl,
does little to shed light on Hathaway, Shakespeare, or the will.
Thiessen throws many of the documented facts about Anne Hathaway
out the window in Shakespeare’s Will, apparently in service to using
Anne as a springboard. For what? Unfortunately, for his own exploration of the
journey of a woman who faces adversity, rises above it, and rekindles a zest
for life in herself. Oh, yawn. Yet another work by a man about a woman
who faces adversity yadda yadda, rises above, yadda yadda…
Shakespeare’s Will takes place on the day of “Bill’s” funeral. Shakespeare’s
sister hands The Will to Anne, who has not read it and does not want to, but
knows she must. Before reading it, Anne dreams back through time and memory,
remembering passion, childbirth and child rearing, desertion, and a very
modern-style marriage of people who will live their own lives, with respect for
each other’s separate desires.
desire takes him to London and a life on the stage; hers, to family life and
unnamed lovers. When plague breaks out, Anne protects her family by taking them
to live at the seashore, away from the terrible illness and death surrounding
them. That seashore visit echoes her own childhood, when her family did the
same in order to avoid plague that was killing her mother. As comforting as
Anne finds the sea – the play is full of sea imagery, from the first line (“I
long for the sea”) to last (“to hell with your words/sink them in the sea…”) --
that trip saved the family from bubonic plague, but still has terrible
her reverie, Anne must finally read the will, she slowly checks off the
bequests: to his daughters, his friends, his sister, and herself. At this
point, Thiessen’s departure from the historical record really goes off the
rails, making up an alternate history/feminist polemic, with their son’s death
from drowning as the motivation behind The Legacy.
Son’s death from drowning? What drowning? There’s an ambiguous line about the
surf “…washing your smile out to sea” in the midst of the memory of part the
seaside visit when the family make a waterside portrait of Bill out of sand,
shells, and seaweed. That’s it: the only reference to any kind of loss from the
time of the plague (according to historical record, the boy died of the
vividly remembers and describes their son’s death from drowning, she
understands why Shakespeare leaves her the small bequest of the bed --
punishment. For Thiessen, the loss of her home, and the memory of the loss of
her son, merge, and make it possible for her to “… move on. You always move
fairness, the poetic language and imagery of the play are suffused with beauty.
Kowalchuk does manage to make it sound like lovely poetry, in spite of the
faintly vacant space from which she acts this tale of lusty, frightened,
strong, angry, resigned Anne; there’s very little there there, in her
songs she sings, to music and sound accompaniment by Rima Fand, wonder while
they wander. Inconsistently, when she acts the several characters of the story,
only one of them – her father -- seems any different from the others. He gets
an accent; all others get North American Basic Theater Voice. There seems to be
no reason at all for this one excursion into voice talent.
inconsistencies, the flavorless quality of the performance, the basic premise,
the odd musical accompaniment: all add up to a New Age-y feminist statement
that just doesn’t work, as theater, as performance, or as feminism. You have
better ways to spend an hour.
7pm; Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday 2pm
March 21; runs through April 1