Shakespeare’s Will

Tannis Kowalchuk stars as Anne Hathaway in Vern Thiessen’s Shakespeare’s Will, opening March 21st at HERE in Hudson Square. Original photo by Emily Hewitt.

By Andrew Andrews

Despite being one of the most famous historical figures of all time, very little is known about the life of William Shakespeare—and even less about his wife, Anne Hathaway, and their time both together and apart. Wikipedia tells us Hathaway was twenty-six and pregnant when she married the eighteen-year old son of an alderman, and the latter didn’t appear on the London theatre scene until a decade later.

Ten years is a long time, and an extended absence allows renown Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen plenty of freedom to invent a biography that is engaging, dramatic, and completely believable. Thiessen admits he’s used Hathaway’s life “as a springboard for my own imagination and artistic goal–to explore the journey of a woman who faces adversity, rises above it and ultimately rekindles life in herself.” Scholars interpret the work as an exploration of gender roles and non-traditional relationships that coincides with Canada’s own changing public opinions about those topics, and in that light this story seems especially apropos for performance in New York City in the year 2018.

As a one-woman show, the success of this production depends tremendously on Tannis Kowalchuk’s depiction of the character, and director Mimi McGurl has seen to it that Kowalchuk does a splendid job of convincing us not only that she is Anne Hathaway, but that Thiessen’s story really is Anne’s story, too. But what really caught our attention about this show is the fine line it walks between a dramatic play and a musical: you see, from time to time throughout the narrative Hathaway breaks into song—almost a lullaby, really—with just enough music and movement to convince the audience that her memories of the recently-departed Bill are fond and bittersweet. In the script, Thiessen specifies that the songs “are essential to the play’s rhythm and must not be omitted” but that they “may be as theatrical as is desired,” and that their inspiration derives from time-honored songs such as Scarborough Fair. To that end, Kurt Knuth and Rima Fand have composed music which Fand performs live in a style that takes us back, if not to Elizabethan England, to at least the 1960’s counterculture movement here (which seems to be experiencing a resurgence, if not a nostalgia, as evidenced in part by the NYPL’s Revolution exhibit and MAD’s Counter-Couture last year). Further impressing us with her talents, Fand uses her instruments between songs to add foley effects to Kowalchuk’s actions, filling voids that are otherwise left by a cast of one and a black-box set.

If you’re looking for an accurate account of the marriage of William Shakespeare… well, this ain’t it. But if you’re up for a masterfully-written and flawlessly-delivered work of historical fiction, this show will satisfy your needs, to say the least! And considering how much New Yorkers love Shakespeare, we expect that this will be a very popular show once the word gets around. So beat the rush, then come back here and tell us how much you liked it. Whether you find it a timely challenge to traditional gender roles or consider it too loose with the truth, your reviews help others decide whether they should attend, and your ratings help us help you find future productions (Bard-themed or not!) that you’re sure to love!

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Andrew Andrews attended Shakespeare’s Will at HERE in New York on Thursday, March 15, 2018 @ 7:00pm to write this review.

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