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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Shakespeare's Will

Those lips that Love's own hand did make
Breath'd forth the sound that said I hate
To me that languish'd for her sake:
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come.
— excerpt from From Sonnet 45, the only actual words by Shakespeare in Shakespeare's Will.
Kristin Wold

One of many bits of prop transformation wizardry to enliven Kristin Wold's solo performance (Photo credit: Kenneth Sprague)
The good news first: Kristin Wold is a versatile and energetic enough performer to avoid stasis, which is the the prime danger of any solo play and director Daniela Varon has provided her with a production that allows her to make this a true star turn. And Vern Thiessen has once again written a play tied to actual characters or situations, in Shakespeare's Will, his focus is on Shakespeare's wife Anne Hathaway and the fact-based jump starting event her return from her husband's funeral to await the arrival of his sister for the reading of his will.

The not so good news: The script gives is an actor's gift, allowing the narrating main character to speak in numerous voices (among them the Bard, his sister, her father) and even to sing and dance. And Varon and her designers enable Wold to make effective use of costumes and props to make for a lively visual presentation. Particularly effective is a box-like contraption that's covered with a cloth inscribed with parts of the sonnet that represents the play's only words by Shakespeare . When that cloth is pulled down and the now bare box swings around to become a bed that cloth becomes a bedpread for the scene in which Thiessen has Anne and Shakespeare vow to have an unconventional marriage and he reads her the sonnet which he says he has written for her.

Unfortunately, Thiessen's link to one of the few facts known about Shakespeare's marriage — his will bequeathing her their Stratford home's best bed but not the house — isn't enough to give his otherwise imagination propelled text a really compelling raison dêtre. And clever and helpful as the inventive uses to which those props and costumes are put they tend to get to be a bit too much— and after a while as much intended to help cover up the play's weakness as to help Wold enliven and enrich her performance.

An item becomes an infant cuddled by Kristin Wold (Photo: Kenneth Sprague
An so to summarized the good and the bad together: A bravura performance, well supported by its director and her team, but a story that sheds no light on our most gifted and enduring wordsmith. And let's face it, without the Shakespeare connection there's nothing in Mr. Thiessen's attempt to give Anne Hathaway a voice to make her story compelling. Granted the Everywoman's voice Thiessen gives her makes her a woman ahead of her time in that she was the consenting partner in a sort of 16th century open marriage. However, but this is a small claim to enduring fame, compared to her justifiably famous husband. What's more the will of the title is ultimately mostly a device, a magnet word in the title to attract audiences. Rephrasing Rabbi Harold Kusner's often quoted comment about dealing with bad luck ("When bad things happen to good people"), perhaps best puts this sum-up into the perennial nutshell: Shakespeare's Will is a case of a not so good play happening to a bravura performance.

The three previous plays by Vern Thiessen that I've seen were also intriguing but flawed. Einstein's Gift (2007) , tackled a science play with some scientific jargon easily accessible and with never a dull moment. Lenin's Embalmers (2010) was an entertaining dram about the embalming of Vladimir Lenin in 1924 ordered by Stalin as a means to "immortalize communism" and keep its spirit alive. A More Perfect Union (2009) explored the fictional relationship of two law clerks in the Supreme Court. Clearly this author is prolific enough and with a wide enough range of interests to continue on an upward career spiral.

As if Kristin Wold didn't expend enough energy to deserve a rest on the days not holding center stage with this solo play, she appears with the in repertory production of one of Shakespeare's own classics, Julius Caesar, a terrific production in which she plays three parts. For my thumbs up review of that click here.

Shakespeare's Will by Vern Thiessen
Directed by Daniela Varon
Starring, Kristin Wold
Set, Patrick Brennan
Costumes, Govane Lohbauer
Lighting, Matthew Miller
Composer/ Sound designer, Alexander Sovronsky
Movement director, Susan Dibble
Stage Manager, Tori Sheehan
Running Time: 85 minutes, no intermission
Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox
May 24 through August 24, 2014
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer July 17
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