By Wendy Carson
The title of the play, “Shakespeare’s Will,” by Vern Thiessen, is a turn of phrase that would impress the Bard himself, not only a twisting of William Shakespeare and describing the document of his estate, but also alluding to the willful nature of the man and his wife, Anne Hathaway.
Speaking of language, words overused in popular speech have lost their impact, still I feel the only way to describe this amazing one-woman show, at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, is “tour-de-force.” Thiessen has written a script that sweeps us through “Bill” and Anne’s first meeting, courtship, marriage, their children, his career, and the aftermath of his death. This reveals Hathaway as a remarkable woman in her own right.
Tracy Arnold takes us on a 90-minute ride through Hathaway’s complicated relationship with her husband. While we are taught incessantly about Shakespeare, little is ever told to us about the woman he married. We know her name, the names of her children, and if we are lucky, the actual terms of the titular will.
The show begins as Anne returns home following her husband’s funeral. She is sad, rain-soaked, tired, and carrying a copy of Shakespeare’s will which she hesitates to read. She turns instead within and reminisces of her time spent with (and often without) him.
Arnold uses a bench, chair, shawl, and a spectacular bed as her props to whisk us away to numerous points in time she reenacts. While going at a whirlwind pace, you never feel any scene is rushed or too brief. The various other characters she inhabits throughout are extremely well crafted, especially Hathaway’s father.
Director Brenda DeVita keeps the narrative guided on Hathaway’s path within the greater story of her connection to Shakespeare. History fails to record the lives of women, so we are left with far too few verifiable facts to work with in their remembrance (a mere nine in this case, according to DeVita).
A unique experience, this show is tender, defiant, tragic, and challenging, yet beautifully enjoyable. Happily, IRT has scheduled Student Matinees of the show to help bring youth a new and more accessible side of the history they are learning.
Performances run through April 16 on the Upperstage of the IRT, 140 W. Washington St. in Downtown Indianapolis. For information and tickets, visit irtlive.com.