When she’s not playing Shakespeare’s Richard III this season at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Festival mainstay Seana McKenna is playing Shakespeare’s wife in Shakespeare’s Will, an intermissionless one-person non-play by Vern Thiessen presented in the vest-pocket Studio Theatre.
The conceit is that we are seeing Anne Hathaway Shakespeare just after she’s buried her husband Will. In a rambling monologue we learn a great deal about their unconventional relationship before she gets around to reading his will (the title’s a pun, get it?) which seems to upset her no end.
Next to nothing is known about the private lives of Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, save that she was some seven years his elder, that they had three children, one of whom died young, and that they spent most of their adult lives apart. So most of what Thiessen depicts is pure invention. In his fantasy, they agreed to what we might call an “open marriage,” that he went to London and took on a male lover while she made do with casual flings in the barn with passing strangers. Their son Hamnet died in a swimming accident, a misfortune for which Shakespeare blamed his wife and for which he got back at her by bequeathing her is “second-best bed.”
Aside from the fact that many theatergoers might actually believe all of this is accurate, the larger problem with the piece is that, despite McKenna’s most strenuous efforts, the piece is just not that involving or interesting. I found myself reduced to admiring McKenna’s vocal technique, which is formidable, when I should have been caught up in the tale being told.